Changing the Question

In the early stages of adolescence, young children are often asked, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” It is a well-known fact that this answer is prone to change over the course of one’s lifetime. However, it always brings a certain element of distress and anxiety as if even at those youthful stages in our lives, people expect us to have an understanding of what we’re passionate about and want to do with our futures. People have become accustomed to the idea that one particular passion translates to a singular, specific career choice.

However, sometimes we just want a small taste of everything. All these disparate interests cannot simply be distilled into one passion. Sampling many interdisciplinary studies and discovering the intersections between these many interests allow one to synthesize and connect this accumulation of knowledge and skills. I want to embrace my diversified set of passions and follow curiosity wherever it may take me. I don’t want to force myself to specialize and find myself travelling down the single direction, straight-line path without difficulty; I want to navigate my way through a complex and uncertain maze, making my way through every twist and turn, finding myself stuck at dead ends, turning back from unsuccessful paths, learning from my mistakes, and focusing on the journey rather than the end destination. In the end, my end destination is not some singular career choice, the figures in my salary, or a résumé of awards and accomplishments.

I value the relationships I have made along the way, the skills I have developed as a result of both my successes and failures, and the lessons I’ve learned from capitalizing on each opportunity life has offered me. When I grow up, I will not ask my children the same question. I don’t want them to have an idea of what they want to do, where they want to live, what type of families they want to raise; I want them to discover these things on their own. The thing about knowing “what” we want to be when we grow up is that we begin to questions ourselves. What we like, what we dislike. What grades we need to achieve. What top-tier universities we may attend. Accumulating all these statistics and distilling them into a set of data for ourselves that will somehow translate into “what” we said we wanted to be. We begin to lose ourselves in this idea that we must do everything we possibly can in order to be “something”, but not necessarily stay true to ourselves. I want to rid of this idea of a checklisted childhood, the idea that we must follow an excruciatingly specific, clear-cut, unattainable formula for success.

Instead, I want to change the question. I want my children to think about the type of roles they want to fill for their friends, their families, their peers, even themselves. I want my children to think about what genuinely makes them happy. I want them to focus on their values, not their future careers. I want them to pursue what they’re passionate about without worrying about how it will fit some job or major. Because it’s okay for them to not know what they want to do. It’s okay to reach those dead-ends, experience those feelings of exasperation and frustration, turn back and have to embark on new, unfamiliar paths. It’s okay because it’s all a part of the journey that we must take in figuring out this crazy thing called life. We may never find the answer to “what” we want to be, but we’ll start to gain an understanding of the people, the places, the things we choose to care about. We’ll gain an understanding about the roles we want to fill and the type of character we want to build.

Because in the end, it’s not about what we want to be. It’s about who we want to be.