What Do You Want to Be When You Grow Up?
How we unintentionally limit ourselves and the next generation — and the paradigm shift that can fix that
One of our favorite things to ask children is what they want to be when they grow up. In most cases we ask the question with the best of intent. We want to encourage children to dream, and I think we also kind of want to live vicariously through them as they sprinkle us with their unadulterated dreams.
But as I approach my 40th year of life, I have begun to see this question as more damaging than beneficial. It’s not that there’s anything wrong with getting children to think and dream about the future.
What’s damaging is the terminology that we use. Unfortunately, that terminology is the same terminology that we grew up with. And it has become so ingrained in our view of how our life should proceed that we have no other way of talking about what happens as you go forward on life’s journey.
The problem with the terminology is twofold. First, it presents the process of growing up as one that ends at some point. And it uses a phraseology that favors some endpoint as the destination to reach. Usually that endpoint is a career. What the question seems to assume is that the important thing is where you end up — which is unfortunate.
Becoming, not Being
As I make peace with some of the very difficult decisions that I have had to make over the course of my career, I am beginning to understand a truth I wish I’d learned over a decade ago.
The joy we get from work, just like the joy that we get from our family and communal relationships, doesn’t come from where we end up. The joy comes from the journey.
The joy in life comes from the hard work of making progress, from struggling, from learning. The joy comes from all those things that aren’t endpoints, but rather journeys. To put it another way the joy and the meaning come not from the being, but rather from the process of becoming.
When we ask children what they would like to be when they grow up, we are unknowingly teaching them to fixate on the endpoints, rather than the journey it takes to get there. In doing so, we are…