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What Do You Want to Be?

The oft-asked question of our youth should continue to be posed throughout our life. The responses and perspectives open the door to many possibilities.

Do you remember getting this question while you were much younger?

What do you want to be when you grow up?

Usually you’d rattle off a thing or two, sometimes a job that actually exists, and other times a fantasy-induced title of sorts influenced by cartoons and books (you know, superheroes, princesses, and the like). Once the questioner was satisfied, you could return to whatever it was you were doing immediately prior, which was always 100 times better than talking about career fields.

You would continue to get this question at other stages, namely high school and into college, and at times at the very beginning of your career. The question would morph slightly to replace the ‘when you grow up’ part with ‘after you graduate’. Of course, you could now confidently answer with options within the realm of possibility. (Superheroes and princesses need not apply.)

Up to that point, you have been asked this particular question so frequently that you have an elevator speech memorized. You no longer think hard about providing a thoughtful answer. You recite the requisite language and move on to the next discussion item. It becomes so mundane as to be exhausting.

And then one day you realize, no one asks you anymore “What do you want to be?”

Career fields are not the only acceptable answer, though we are programmed to think of it in that context. Think broader. Replace the ‘what’ with ‘who’.

‘What do you want to be?’ and ‘Who do you want to be?’ are two sides of the same coin. Rather than relegating them into the dustbin of conversational history, we should continue to pose both questions to people in our orbit—even into our golden years.

The sum of a person is not their industry, title, network, or net worth.

  • What hard turns do you want to take? A chosen path always has off ramps and is not irrevocable.

  • What do you still hope to learn? To master? To have fun doing? To make this world a better place?

  • Who, at your core, are you? What about that do you want to remain the same? What do you desire or struggle to change?

Different stages of life will alter the answers you provide, as it should. The wisdom you gather along the way about yourself, others, and the very world we live in influences who you want to be.

The initial “What do you want to be when you grow up?” is asked over and over again to impart the intentionality and importance of planning and setting a course.

But I would argue we should continue asking “What (or who) do you want to be?” to further our growth into the type of person we are able to be. The best version of ourselves. When we consistently strive to better ourselves without ulterior motives, we open up possibilities.

How often do we think about what or who we want to be when the question is never posed beyond the years of our early twenties? Honestly, not as much as we should unless a life event forces us to reevaluate what brought us to that moment.

Do not wait until life puts you into a corner to consider the possibilities.

What (and who) do you want to be?

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