18 January 2014

What do you want to be when you grow up?

...is a question I remember being asked in elementary school. My answer? "An adult". I had no idea how to answer this question as I couldn't imagine being anything other than what I am, either as an adult or a child.

I know they were asking what kind of career path I wanted but something about the phrasing bothered me. And it just occurred to me (at 43) that the reason I didn't like it is because the phrase suggests that your job/career defines you. Does it? Does it really?

This phrase put a lot of pressure on me to come up with a suitable response as well as meet my family's idea of what's 'right'. For instance, my mom frowned upon my sister being a fry cook for a while even though my sister was the best fry cook she could be. My mom also didn't like my job as a maid, or my older sister's job telemarketing. My mom also didn't encourage me to pursue any career or help me figure out what I would be good at. 

So at the tender age of 11ish I was being asked to pick a career without any kind of idea of what I might like or have a natural affinity for. I don't know if children are asked this question in schools now, but I did see my boys bring home work from the Career and Life Management course (in high school) which helped to categorize jobs in a way I hadn't seen before. This would have helped tremendously as I could have avoided any 'direct contact with customers' type of jobs right off the bat, as well as provided some idea of different jobs/careers that I'd never heard of. 

I have been guilty of asking my boys what they want to be when they grow up, and I now see I should have rephrased the question as "what kind of job would you like to do?". My older son is well on the path to being a computer engineer and loving it. My younger one is like me and has no idea what he wants to do, only that he doesn't want to go to post-secondary school right now. And I suspect that my younger son will most likely learn what he wants to do by trial and error instead of randomly picking a career and going for it. 

I do wonder if I would have had less anxiety about the world around me if I wasn't being pressured to find a career so early on. I wonder if it contributes to my younger son's anxiety.

The other phrase involving careers I dislike is "you can be anything". No, you can't. Seriously, some people just don't have the talent for something, or the single-minded focus for some careers, or the physical ability to do the job. I know the schools are trying to help, but I think it would be better if they didn't tie in your identity with a job.

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