Boss Lady

Reframing what we want to be when we grow up


“What do you want to be when you grow up?” is one of our favorite questions. From the time children are little until they reach early adulthood, we ask them over and over again. Some of us are still asking this question of ourselves when we’re in our 30s or 40s.

There’s a reason it gets asked a lot, and it’s because it’s a question that makes sense; a large part of people’s’ chances of success now and down the road are tied to their ability to flesh out how they can utilize the skills and interests they have in a way that is practical and useful.

However, because we hear this over and over again, over time it loses its ability to encourage thoughtful consideration. Neither kids nor adults respond critically to it.

Thus, it’s worthwhile to consider alternatives to the question that will prompt parents, kids, and even mid-career individuals who have all the common markers of a full-blown adult to think about the future in a fresh way.

What topics are you most curious about?

This line of thinking invites even the oldest and the most educated among us to think about all things in life as a grounds for potential learning. Not just the things traditionally taught in a classroom, but also other areas of life we may not have previously considered.

Recognizing the topics that an individual is genuinely curious about is the ultimate foundation for recognizing the type of career that will be engaging for the long haul. Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic wrote for the Harvard Business Review that, “Curiosity is as important as intelligence,” because curiosity leads to intellectual complexity and continued growth.

Learning happens everywhere; we never have to see our current place in life as a barrier to gaining new insights and perspectives. As we’ve noted before, “If you’re keen to excel in something, start practicing and put your best in it.

Being the type of person who believes that to be true makes for the type of professional, whatever the field, that employers want to hire. The ability to learn, adapt, and solve problems is crucial.

According to Caitrin Blake for Concordia University, “Learning to think critically will help students examine information and not take it at face value. They will be able to draw upon current knowledge, summarize and synthesize the information at hand, and determine whether it is factual, valuable and relevant.”

Truth for those who consider themselves lifelong students. Not taking the time to recognize and then invest in the areas you’re curious about is a missed opportunity, because seeing new areas of interest will likely foster qualities that you may not even realize you had.

What problems do you see in the world that you’d like to solve?

This question prompts us in an especially helpful manner to look both at ourselves and at the world around us in relation to others. It gives us the opportunity to think about the fact that we aren’t just moving through life, disconnected from all others, but rather that we’re a part of the grand scheme. We have the ability to impact others, for better or worse.

Thinking through the difficulties and problems we see in the world not only will reveal where our attention and interest lies, but it’s also a path to recognizing possible, rewarding career paths.

When GouthemMenton of University Nevada, Reno, was asked what kinds of things draw certain students to a college degree like social work he said, “One of the main focuses in our profession is to alleviate poverty. And we’ve had the War on Poverty since the ‘60s, and we have not made any dent in it. I think students are gravitating toward those types of challenges in terms of trying to find solutions that can create a better world.”

Wanting to be a productive member of society only works when we’re also empathetic members of society.

Who would you like to emulate?

Role models and heroes are not limited to those in grade school. It is likely that virtually all of us have those who come to mind when those questions are asked. Recognizing who we are inspired by is a helpful way to see which values are most important and admirable to us.

This has two meaningful applications. It can serve as a means for us to recognize how we can better operate where we are. You may not be interested in a total career change, but you may benefit from making practical changes that will allow you to operate in a way more similar to those you admire within the field. This may mean you’re more committed to business ethics or sustainability, but it may just mean a slight shift in how you operate on a day-to-day basis.

As Dr. Susan Krauss Whitbourne pointed out for Psychology Today, “When employees have ethical leaders, they like them better. Just as importantly, they will behave in more positive ways within the organization. Clearly, it’s to everyone’s advantage to have supervisors who are positive role models.”

It may be more far-reaching than that, though. Recognizing who you most admire, may reveal a potential change in your professional life. Perhaps you admire someone because they work in a field where they’re able to make clear, positive impacts in the lives of others. Perhaps recognizing that allows you to see that that kind of professional shift that would lead to a more fulfilling life.

Say “No” to boxes.

One of the best qualities possessed by kids is that they don’t put themselves in boxes. Instead, oftentimes when you ask a six-year-old what he wants to be when he grows up, he’ll tell you he wants to be a professional drummer anda fireman. An astronaut and a veterinarian. A cowboy and a chef. The problem is that we construct boxes for ourselves and other adults.

The key is to remember that if an individual is unhappy with their current professional situation, it’s likely that they themselves are one of the greatest barriers to overcoming that dissatisfaction.

We smile and respond affirmatively when a 7-year-old tells us that they’re going to be a veterinarian, deep-sea diving hybrid. But, as kids get older we believe their chances, and ours, of success depend on their ability to commit to solitary, serious endeavors, and we believe that to be unequivocally true of adults.

It doesn’t have to be that way, though. The world is full of individuals who have changed expectations; you could be next.

About Avery Taylor Phillips

Avery Taylor Phillips is a freelance human being with too much to say. She loves nature and examining human interactions with the world. Comment or tweet her @a_taylorian with any questions or suggestions.

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