“What do you want to be when you grow up?” I remember wrestling with this question as a child. I loved animals, so I thought about working in a zoo. But policemen got to use guns, so that was a popular choice, too. Eventually, I settled on the idea of a Forest Ranger, because (based on my limited understanding of workplace responsibility) I’d get to be a gun-toting badass while still befriending all manner of woodland creatures. It was perfect.
As a kid, this question is exciting because it opens up a world of possibility to the imagination (I wish you could see how cool I looked in my crisp Ranger uniform, striding through the forest with my sidearm and trusty pet falcon). But with the perspective adulthood brings, I’ve come to see things a bit differently. And I have to say…I hate that question.
The problem is the insidious implication of the phrasing. “What do you want to be…” Not do. Be. I don’t want to read too much into a question that we usually ask because we know the answer will be hilarious, but I do think the nature of the wording reveals something true about our culture. Too often, our work becomes the basis for our identity. You choose what you want to be as a young adult, and that choice controls the rest of your life.
This is what I think of when I hear “career.” The word comes from the Latin “carraria,” meaning “road.” I don’t want to experience work this way; as an identity, or a lifelong highway with no exits. Even when I was young, I knew that I didn’t want a career. Partially this was how I was raised. My mom used to tell us that if we decided to walk away from our jobs someday and go build canoes, that would be fine by her, as long as we were happy (I never understood why building canoes was her idea of fulfillment…and it definitely didn’t sound better than safeguarding woodland justice, but the general principle sank in).
When I think about what I do professionally, I think about it in the context of a craft. In German “kraft” means “strength,” or “power.” This is how I like to frame the issue of work — I want to consider where my strengths lie, and then how I can use that to earn a living for my family.
In my mind, a job is a temporary thing. It’s part of a season of life. The job I’m doing next year might be completely different from the one I’m doing now. If my craft and my employment can be one and the same, that’s awesome. But that’s not always a given. I want to make choices for my family based on strengths and passions — what we believe, what we love, what we want to experience — and then work backward to what job I’ll need to make those things happen.
This mindset will probably never lead to building boats or riding a bear into battle…but you never know.