What Do You Want to Be When You Grow Up?

When my oldest was about three, I started planting the idea of college in her brain. I remember a particular conversation we had.

“What happens when you’re five?” I asked.

“I go to school,” she answered on cue.

“Where do you go after grade school?” I asked next.

“High school,” she responded.

“Where do you go after high school?”


Then I asked, “What are you going to be when you grow up?”

Smiling, she told me, “A clown.”

Great, I thought. Clown college!

I’ve been thinking about that question we always ask kids. What do you want to be when you grow up? I think we’re asking the wrong question or expecting the wrong answer.

I’ve been a teacher for over 30 years and I definitely hold Teacher as part of my central identity. But not everyone is lucky enough to have a career that they love, much less one that can be part of their character. Some of us have a passion for what we do, but many, many more simply have a job so that they can pursue their passions, or sometimes just so they can survive. We need garbage collectors, car salesman and account managers, and all those jobs provide services modern society needs, but none are likely to make people feel like that is who they are in life.

According to US Labor statistics, people my age have had an average of 11+ jobs. The millennial generation is likely to switch careers even more often. No one will “be” one thing through their lifetime. Maybe what we should be asking is, “Who do you want to be when you grow up?”

Do you want to be smart? Everyone’s intelligence can be improved with hard work and perseverance, qualities that would be valuable for any occupation.

Do you want to be strong and brave? Start practicing now, child. Exercise those muscles and face your fears.

Do you want to be adventurous? Then, parents, it’s time for some child-sized freedom or they’ll never be up for a challenge.

Do you want to be athletic? You’ll need some genetic talent, but then practice, practice, practice.

Do you want to be kind? The world could use you right now.

Do you want to be creative? Don’t be a follower. Pursue your art.

Since my husband has retired and taken over many of the chores I used to do, I’m trying self-centered on for size. I think this is what has freed me up to try adding Writer to my psyche. It feels pretty good.

Who do you want to be? Try on a new label and see how it feels.


6 thoughts on “What Do You Want to Be When You Grow Up?

  1. EXACTLY! “Who” do you want to be . . . . Love it!! Great food or thought. Every part–from head to toe, from ear to elbow, from underarm to . . . plays an essential mirroring role in society. But “who” do we want to be while switching hats from mommy to mentor to manager? Hats off, Margaret. :o)


  2. Good thoughts. You are so right. I was a teacher for 37 years, but now I am not. That label doesn’t fit anymore. So I have new goals for “who” I want to be. Those goals include trivia host, salesperson, party planner, and a host of other things I now have time for. I knew when I was in 2nd grade that I wanted to be a teacher when I grew up, but little did I know that growing up to be a grandma would really be my favorite role!


  3. I still hold teacher as a central part of my identity and I haven’t been in front of the classroom for 8 years. I love listening to what my kids want to be when they grow up. One wants to be a veterinarian who sings to animals and then paints portraits of them. The other wants to be a piano playing Pokemon Champion. We shall see. 🙂


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