“What Will I Be When I Grow Up?”
Start Your Process Early to Answer Life’s Recurring Question
This question will not go unanswered.
As a kid you quickly volunteer answers: firefighter, ballerina, basketball player, scientist, pilot. It’s right that action-jobs attract kids. You may defer answering it as a college senior. You may say, “I’m not sure. We’ll see what comes up.” You find yourself saying it in your first job, hinting that “This is OK, but it’s not quite the right fit.” In fact, you may think it through a career.
I’ve had two different conversations recently with people suddenly seeing the horizon of retirement off in the distance. Both said some variation of “I’m not sure what I want to be when I grow up.”
The question is tricky because it sounds like an all or nothing deal: you do this or you do that. Binary. One or the other. But the truth is more like life is filled with all sorts of opportunities that are concurrent. You must pick. You must choose. If you don’t pick and choose, chances are good you’ll simply slide into being entertained. That’s not bad, it’s just that being entertained generally pacifies the urge to create.
And yes, I am talking about creating. Because one assumption behind the “What will I be?” question is “How will I take action in the world?” I argue that the sooner we find ways to address that question, the better off we’ll be at every stage of life. One old model of retirement was that you put in your time for 30-40 years (at something you hate or just tolerate), and then head to the golf course in Florida or Arizona to be entertained until you tip over into the grave. Today people approaching retirement are looking for ways to keep making a difference. The lucky ones have both their health and some sense of the art or craft or service they simply cannot live without doing.
I’m thinking about this today because one central piece to my social media marketing class asks students to pursue their passion publicly using every social media avenue open to them. This is a difficult question and commitment for these students to make. I like the exercise because it forces them toward the larger life question. I like the exercise because it initiates a process that, if they follow it, will begin to answer that question.
Locating that thing we are passionate about involves experimentation, of course. And if your work does not leave any time for locating your art/craft/serve/tribe, is it possible that in 30 years you might still be asking, “What will I be when I grow up?”
I hope not.
Image credit: Kirk Livingston