Do You Ask: "What Do You Want to Be When You Grow Up?"

emotional intelligence growth mindset parenting resilience Nov 15, 2020

As early as preschool, people start asking children what they want to be when they grow up. And while there is certainly nothing wrong (and a lot right) with encouraging children to think about their futures and consider careers that might interest them, this question fails to convey several important things.

First, the question is asking about what career your child wants to have, but a job is only part of the story.

A better question might be—"Who do you want to be when you grow up?"—because it evokes thought about the myriad of components that factor into who we are as humans.

"Who do you want to be?" prompts thought about not just career, but also family, values, hobbies, lifestyle, and legacy. It starts a conversation about how your kids want to show up in the world, how they want to be perceived by others, and how they will try to balance all of the things that will matter to them.

The second and most important thing the question fails to convey is the process of "becoming." 

Perhaps this is best described in a letter from author Kurt Vonnegut to high school children...

The richness of our character, the depth of our values, and the expanse of our empathy for others is in large part determined by how much becoming we have done.

We start becoming when we are children, and what we do as children matters. The experiences our children are having today should be treasured, even if they do not directly lead them to a career.

If our children play the violin simply because they love playing the violin, they are becoming, even if they aren't good enough to pursue careers as musicians.

When we focus too much on their future careers, we risk that they miss all of those moments of becoming because they are instead focused on following a strict path instead of following their passions.

Finally, consider that the path your kids are on will be full of twists and turns. It will include disappointments, as well as opportunities and experiences that may cause them to change their mind about what they want to be.

"Who they want to be" might change too, and is worth considering.

If you teach your children to expect the unexpected, that changing their minds is a part of the process of becoming, and to focus on who they want to be as well as what they want to be, they will be open to the process of evolving and able to enjoy the journey.

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