Don’t have all the answers

Gavin Strange tackles that dreaded question: What do you want to be when you grow up?

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, 1987 series

Answers. Who has them? Grown-ups, apparently. When we’re nippers we live in this blissful world of Lego, endless bike rides and Thomas the Tank Engine [insert your own childhood obsessions here]. And it’s free of any responsibility.

This continues for years and years. More Lego, more bike rides, more Thomas the Tank Engine (naturally progressing to Mutant Ninja Turtles, of course). It’s wonderful, a seemingly never-ending state of … well, ‘play’.

Play without thought or reason. And then, it comes. The Question.

‘What do you want to be when you grow up?’

At first it’s an innocent little question. So inevitably you blurt out whatever you’re obsessed with at the time.


They tolerate that response for a little while, but there’s only so many times you can give the answer of wanting to be a genetically altered reptile with a knowledge of martial arts.

The question becomes more and more frequent over the years, until you realise they want an answer. A proper answer. A satisfactory answer. The thing is, you’re 15 years old — how can you possibly know? There’s a lot going on when you’re in your teens, so being asked what you want to do for the next 50 years is, quite understandably, terrifying.

Some people have a clear idea of what they want to do from a very young age. They have that drive and vision. They seem to inherently know what their life’s work will be. And that’s very cool, and if you have that, then you’re lucky. But I’m sure I wasn’t alone in being totally clueless when asked such a big question at such a young age.

But guess what? It’s OK to not have all the answers. That’s not to say you shouldn’t have thoughts and ideas about what you’d like to do in your life, but you need time to discover the things you love and find interesting. These discoveries may one day form into a neat, concise answer of: ‘I want to do that!

This doesn’t just apply to school leavers or college graduates either. The pressure gets even greater as you get older. Once you have a ‘job’ many of us can find it’s easier to stay in it, working our way up the ladder. There is an expectation that we’ll stay: ‘Well, you chose to be here, why would you go anywhere else?’

No way! You are in control of your career and your personal happiness. You need to make sure you are spending your time and energy on the things you care about. Sure, that’s idealistic! But why would you not want to live in an ideal world?

On his track ‘Dead Man’s Float’, rapper and poet Sage Francis says:

We are all born free, we die by the shackles we adopt. Enjoy your buoyancy, right up until the very last drop.

From the outset we feel we’re in control of what we do, but as time goes on it can be very easy to get ‘shackled’ to things or a way of life we don’t necessarily want to lead.

It’s not an easy process. This is a lifelong challenge of following your own intuition and interests, directing yourself towards the good things — and steering yourself away from those not so good — all the while being open and honest, connecting with others and collaborating. This first stage of learning to fly is about asking those questions and finding the right answers. Maybe you already have the right one.

So instead of asking, ‘What do I want to be when I grow up?’ maybe reframe the question and consider, ‘What kind of person do I want to be when I grow up?’

Gavin Strange is a Senior Designer at Aardman Animations, the four-times Academy Award-winning studio behind Shaun the Sheep and Wallace & Gromit. He is a believer in creative side-projects and develops his own under the JamFactory moniker.

Extract from Do Fly: Find Your way. Make a living. Be your best self. by Gavin Strange. Copyright © 2016 by Gavin Strange. Published by The Do Book Co.

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