“When I was 5 years old, my mother always told me that happiness was the key to life. When I went to school, they asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. I wrote down ‘happy’. They told me I didn’t understand the assignment, and I told them they didn’t understand life.”
– John Lennon
When you were in school I bet you got asked the same question. It’s very typical to hear it floating around the walls of elementary schools everywhere. What do you want to be when you grow up? Some kids have great answers like a dog or my momma. Others are going to be president, an astronaut, or a doctor. We see these shining faces of pure energy and want them to dream for anything in life. But eventually, we stop asking.
Society Doesn’t Care
At some point in the cycle that is the American school system, we stop asking what kids want to be and start assuming for them. This one isn’t fit for college. This one will be locked up before he is 30. That one will never leave this town and that one will be pregnant before graduation. The rest might go to college. But we assume where they will end up too. Not in the same sense, but we do.
We already assume that they will be desk workers or phone answerers or car fixers or order givers or food makers and that John Lennon’s answer is not in the cards. I am not sure we ever even consider it as a viable option, just like our teachers didn’t give it thought for us, and theirs didn’t for them.
School is not meant to teach you how to be a happy human but a productive worker.
College Has No Plan
Then there is Advanced School, for folks who didn’t get enough knowledge at the required level and have decided they need more. When you went to college did you have a goal? Did you know what you wanted to be?
Even if you were one of the few who picked correctly and landed on a major that worked right out of the gate, did you know what studying Chemistry would turn into? Or maybe you bounced from English to Math to Business. Even then, did you know what you were hoping to be when you got out?
For 4 years (or like me, 7) you defined yourself by what you are studying. I am a business major. I am a chem major. I am a nursing major. Bet you didn’t give a thought to where that would dump you until the last semester of your last year because all of a sudden, you have to do something with that degree.
Degree = Job?
Some degrees lend themselves to jobs. Nursing majors come out and become nurses. Engineers come out and get jobs as engineers. Chemistry majors come out and…. Ok, what about business majors? Bussiness majors come out and start businesses?? Nope. Not usually. Work at businesses. Well so does everybody else. So did you have an idea in mind when you went into your major or did you hold your breath and jump?
Wherever you are now, wherever you landed, can you answer that question? A few years or a few decades after college, 20+ years since it was first asked to you, What do you want to be when you grow up? If you are like me the only things that come to mind aren’t jobs like the answers they expect from you in first grade. Instead, my answers more mimic Lennon’s.
I want to be happy.
I want to be financially stable.
I want to be fit and healthy.
I want to own my time.
These are the things I want most to be.
Those answers I came up with in elementary school, things like being a librarian (not sure my thought process here), being a cowgirl (this one makes tons of sense), and being a soldier can’t hold a candle to the things I want now. If I was given the chance to have one of the jobs I dreamed I’d have as a kid, I’d turn them all down for those things that I want to be now.
I think that is what is happening in the workforce right now. We are all being confronted with this question from our childhoods and realizing that our answer isn’t the same. We don’t want the things we wanted as kids.
We don’t want high roller careers if it costs us our family and our health. We don’t want a fancy title just to say we have one. We are starting to take a look at who we want to be now and it isn’t tied to our career. Our jobs are slipping from the most important thing in the world to us because we are realizing they don’t give us what we want.
It’s Not Too Late
Lennon had it right. We don’t understand life as kids when we answer that question. We don’t know what we want. We aren’t thinking about what comes with the jobs we choose like the hours and the stress, and we also know we are expected to answer with a job, so we do. Then as adults, we give up understanding because we have been programmed from the age when the question is first asked to tie our identity to our job.
It doesn’t have to be. Why work for what you don’t want? Why sacrifice who you want to be for good enough? All you have is your life, is 5-year-old you proud?
Who do you want to be when you grow up? And are you ready to give up on that?
Thanks for reading Y’all