This question always plagued me as a child. For some reason, adults and teachers thought it was a clever way to make conversation with a 6 year old. For goodness sake, what 6 year old knows what they want to be when they grow up? For that matter, what 40+ year old really knows either? I remember constantly having to come up with some sort of answer to end the conversation, because I had no clue. However, since an older neighbor of mine used to allow me to watch her paint on canvas when I was bored of cartoons, I decided, despite not having an artistic bone in my body, I would tell all the curious adults that I wanted to be an artist. They seemed satisfied and I moved on.
However, this question has a way of resurfacing at each new stage of life in new forms. I remember the dread on my own teenagers’ faces when my friends would ask them, “Have you decided on a college?” and then, “So what are you going to study in college?” followed by “And what will you do after college?” My poor kids had barely been able to pick a college, let alone know what their major or future job will be (keep in mind, one of them picked her college using a dart board). And, in today’s marketplace, this similar query reappears disguised in grown-up business lingo as one of the standard interview questions, “So, what do you see yourself doing in the next five years?” Granted, we may know more at this stage of life, but if we are honest, it is still a little murky.
I have always struggled with these questions as implicit in them is that we are to figure out who we are to BE versus just signing up for a lot of interesting things to DO. The fear has always been if I can’t figure out what I want to BE when I grow up, that my identity was at stake. Society told me I needed a title: A doctor. A lawyer. A teacher. But, after years of this struggle for easy answers, what I have learned is something rather different. Who we ARE is not what we DO. And, if we choose to not be one of the “title” professions like a doctor or teacher, many of us do a lot of different things over the years and so it can be quite confusing if we are defined by our job titles.
Part of the fun of this perennial question (once we get over the fact that we may never have the answer) is that it often is a lifelong discovery filled with many steps and stages that all work together, often leading in a direction. Perhaps one day, looking back, we will see the common threads and arrive at that “Ah hah” moment where we discover our ideal profession or job or calling. If so, it will probably be in hindsight, not foresight. Or perhaps we will never be or do any one thing, but we will enjoy the ride of a diverse set of experiences using a plethora of talents and skills that make us who we are.
The fun of it is in the progression of steps that take us from one experience to another, hopefully each step leading to a new and better opportunity where we take some of what we have done and we mix it in with a new challenge, new people and new mission and get new experiences, new growth and new results – and new impressive resume credentials as well!
Yet, as we progress through professional choices and roles, I believe it wise to be more intentional and focused. Clearly, life is not forever, and as we become more attune to who we are, what we enjoy and how we best function, we are able to live and work with more purpose and success.
Listening to that voice inside of us becomes important as we work to discover the answer to this age-old question of “what’s next?”. What environment do we feel alive in and which ones drain us? What types of tasks do we feel confident in doing and which ones give us a feeling of panic? What do people say we do really well? What areas have employers said we need to work on? Why were we laid off and our co-worker wasn’t? How do we feel when we perform certain job functions like analyzing data, running a meeting or managing a team? With each professional (and personal, for that matter) experience, listening to the honest answer to these questions will provide a direction and more clear calling for our professional lives, which is intricately tied to our satisfaction in our personal life. And with each step we learn more about who we are and who we want to “be” AND “do” when we grow up.
It turns out, I am no artist. But I’ve discovered my passion is to help others paint their story to bring them professional and personal success by connecting them to the next opportunity on their path. You’ve heard it said “it’s the journey, not the destination.” And I agree. So, maybe a better question we should be asking this next generation of kids is “What do you like to do now for FUN?” and leave it at that. And maybe the question for us during a time of transition is “How do I go about discovering greater professional fulfillment and take the next step to make it happen?”
If you need some help figuring out your next step professionally, consider working with Connectivity. As a career consultant, my specialty is helping you figure out where you want to go and then bridge the gap with the right set of tools to help you get to your next opportunity. Contact Camille at Camille@connectivity.cc and let me know how I can help you. For more on my background and services, see www.Connectivity.cc