The question we are all asked as 5 year olds, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” Maybe they ask us because “it’s cute.” Maybe they have all the best intentions in the world, but is there something more going on here?
We might say:
- “The President of America”
- “A Princess”
- “An Astronaut”
- “A Professional Athlete”
- “A Movie Star”
- “A Star on Broadway”
- “A Police Man”
- “A Firefighter”
- “A Doctor”
We might even answer the question with whatever our “daddy does,” or that we want to be “a mommy.”
Then in High School we take ‘The Test’. You know, the one that tells us the 10 jobs most suited toward our personalities. We look at the list and weigh our options. We pick the job with the highest success. The highest paycheck. We say, “That is what I’m going to be.”
We start to tell everyone around us, “Look how successful I’m going to be!” We talk about our 10 year plan and try to figure out where to start. Of course the only answer Seniors in High School hear is, “Go to college.”
So we follow their quickly given advice and go to college. Once there, most of us realize we don’t enjoy the career path we’re on whatsoever. So we begin to panic. “What am I going to do with my life?” We start talking to relatives about our fears and some encourage us, while others shame us. “You just need to push through.” Some people in our lives already made our future job our identity, and if we don’t become that–we are a failure.
At this point we have a choice. To continue, miserably, down the career path a computer picked for us, OR find a new one.
Those of us who stay with the computer pick may get praise from relatives. A great paycheck, and possibly it will all work out. For the rest of us who choose the road less traveled (which is actually more traveled than we expect) may find ourselves fighting to prove our worth to people who once seemed to have so much pride in our career choice.
Why is it so hard to be who we want to be?
We are afraid of disappointing. “I’m a failure” runs through our head like a bad song on repeat.
But the truth is, we are not defined by our job title. Our job is something we do–not who we are.
We are the same person no matter which career we choose, the only difference will be the joy we find while doing it.
To the High School student: The career test you take is really fun! Enjoy it. Look at the career choices and laugh with your friends as you dream about each option. Be careful not find your identity in your future career. Your options might be as endless as they will ever be right now, so take advantage of that. No matter the job you choose, you will always be you. Dream big! Go for it!
To the College student: Maybe you’ve found yourself questioning your major. That’s okay! You are not a failure. Please repeat that to yourself over and over again. The best thing you can do right now is to take some time exploring. You have an opportunity to take classes in different majors. Or maybe the path you find yourself wanting to go down doesn’t involve college at all. Talk to a career advisor. Talk to friends. Talk to relatives. If any of them shame you for wanting to go down a path with a lower income, that is their problem. Money will not buy you happiness. A nonprofit worker is worth the same as a doctor–even more if you find happiness there. Just watch as your relatives put aside their pride as they see you blossom into whichever career you choose. Please do not let the fear of disappointing stop you from doing what you really want. You are going to make a difference!
I would love to hear your stories! Students, where are you at right now in the career journey? For those of you who found a job that brought you happiness, what is your best advice? Or maybe there is something you would have done differently? Please share! We can all learn so much from each other.