The hardest career question you will ever have to answer

What do you want to be when you grow up?  As a kid that question was exciting and full of possibilities.  Kids are encouraged to be anything they want to be.  In elementary school I can always remember being ready to answer this question.  I wanted to be a trash man!  Now before you judge me, you have to look at it through the eyes of a 7 year old boy.  What boy that age doesn’t think it’s cool to ride on the back of a big truck?!  I agree that most kids would just want to be a fireman, but I was scared of the loud sirens. As I got a little older I can remember being discouraged by teachers from my lofty pursuit to become a trash man, and instead was told to focus on things that I could make money doing as a long term career.  (No disrespect to any sanitation engineers who turned out to be millionaires, but they weren’t paid much when I was a kid.)

Looking back, the interesting part to me is that before I was out of elementary school people tried to steer me from being anything I wanted to be, to making sure I could “make money” at it.  Little did the teachers realize, but they were seeing the first group of kids in new generation, millennials.  We weren’t going to pick careers based solely on how much money we made, and we sure weren’t going to commit doing one thing our entire life.

In college our chosen major would change several times, and even our completed degree wouldn’t necessarily reflect the career field we entered.  Obviously it takes a certain amount of money to live, but most of us want to find significance beyond monetary success.  While we aren’t afraid of hard work and discipline, we require work-life balance and quality relationships with those around us.  I won’t speak for everyone my age, but I was into my late 20’s before I could comprehend that question:  What do you want to be when you grow up?

I personally don’t fault anyone for telling kids to be “realistic” or to focus on a “worthy career pursuit”, because let’s face it we can’t actually do ANYTHING we want (we all have the vertically challenged friend that’s NOT going to be an NBA all-star or dunk champion).  But instead of a the worthy pursuit being a typical 9 to 5 job, we should teach people how to find ways to make money doing something they love.  That’s real answer to the question.

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