What Do I Want to Be When I Grow Up: 10 Questions to Help Decide
Wrestling with the future can be scary especially when you start to realize that it’s coming up quickly on you. (Juniors and seniors in high school or college probably know what that’s all about!)
Often you will revisit the old question, “What do I want to be when I grow up?” The less clue you have about answering that as you get older, the scarier it gets!
To help you determine the best answer to that question, you should start by examining the paths available to you.
Is college the right choice, or would you be better served with a vocational school and some practical working experience? These 10 questions should help you arrive at an answer.
1. If money wasn’t an issue, what would you want to do for work?
In the classic comedy film Office Space, the main character wrestles with the idea of what he would do with his life if he had a million dollars and didn’t have to think about money.
At first, the only answer he is able to summon is, “Nothing.” But as the film progresses, he learns how difficult such a directionless existence can be.
“Nothing” should never be your answer to this question. Instead you should think about the ways that you would fill your time if you were the sole overseer of your destiny. Twenty-four hours is a long time when you’re doing nothing, so get creative.
2. What types of books do you like to read, if any?
If you’re the type of person who recoils at the word “books,” then there is a good chance you have no interest in “the classics,” and you would rather read something light or something nonfiction and informative.
What you prefer to read matters. Whether it’s a technical manual, the latest literary masterpiece, the classics, or an escapist genre novel, your library will say a lot about what you expect from life.
NPR recently dug up three studies on Google Scholar that went into the specifics of it all. Here is an excerpt to give you a little guidance on how insightful this “test” can be.
“The first study, published in 1995, focused exclusively on new male Air Force recruits and revealed some interesting associations. For example, individuals who described themselves as more extroverted were more likely than introverts to enjoy reading about entertainment (audio equipment, music, film, etc.) and about fitness, health and sports.
“The second study, published in 2004, focused on a predominantly female sample of Australian university students, and again found reliable connections between reading preferences and personality. For example, individuals who scored higher on extroversion were more likely than introverts to enjoy ‘people-focused’ reading, such as romance novels or newspaper and magazine reports about celebrities. Those who scored high on conscientiousness, a dimension of personality related to self-discipline and planning, were more likely to prefer science-related reading, as well as newspaper or magazine coverage of current events.
“The most recent and most comprehensive study, published in 2011, was based on a diverse sample of more than 3,000 university students, community members and online participants who indicated their entertainment preferences for music, television and film in addition to reading. Not surprisingly, the researchers found that preferences for recreational reading correlated with preferences in other media. For example, people who enjoyed reading about art and poetry were also more likely, on average, to enjoy classical music and opera, to watch foreign films and classics, and to prefer television that focused on the arts and humanities.
“The researchers also found that extroverts were more likely to enjoy what they termed ‘dark entertainment,’ including horror and erotica, as well as ‘cerebral entertainment,’ including history, science and business books. Those who scored low on conscientiousness were also drawn toward dark entertainment, as were those who scored high on openness to experience, who also enjoyed cerebral entertainment and ‘aesthetic’ entertainment, such as art and poetry. Finally, agreeableness was most strongly associated with what they termed ‘communal entertainment,’ which included books about romance and entertainment.”
All of these personality characteristics can help you find a career. You just have to do a little digging into the different careers and your individual preferences.
3. What types of sources/materials do you use when researching a topic of interest online?
The Internet has made it easier to consume complex information in more accessible dosages. For instance, would you rather read about how to fix a washing machine or watch a video on YouTube where a repair person shows you exactly how to handle it?
Examine how you consume information and why you choose to consume it in such a manner. Are your decisions practically driven or does the type of information just make more sense in one format as opposed to another.
The videos that you watch, the podcasts you listen to, the books and magazines and news publications that you read — they all offer additional insight that can help you find a professional answer to the “What do I want to be when I grow up?” question.
4. Who are some of your role models?
Professional football players can typically tell you without fail whom their favorite past football players were. Comedians can cite the comics that influenced them. Physicists can point to scholarly work they admire from predecessors in the field.
Lesson: where your role models are, your calling will be. Heed what your heroes are “telling” you.
5. Whom do you know?
The people you know may or may not double as your role models. Regardless, your network of contacts can often provide you with advice and even your first jobs in the field you pick. Make a list of people you know with similar professional interests.
Are there any you would like to emulate professionally or perhaps work alongside? This exercise can be a great source for narrowing the field.
6. What is your vision for the future?
Vision is important in any career. With vision, Steve Jobs turned a computer company that he started in his parents’ garage — with one other guy — into a $2 billion company with more than 4,000 employees.
The vision Jobs had was the kind that you have for your own life. Don’t think about what you want in the now; think about what you might want your life to be 10 years from now, and design your life to get there.
7. How do you feel about debt?
If you’re still wrestling with the idea of college, ask yourself this question. The costs of college are skyrocketing while the increased income from going is hardly keeping pace, except for certain fields.
Reexamine the decision to go to college and see if you might be better served by following a vocation and work experience. While you may not make as much, you can still earn a decent living and not have the massive amounts of debt to hinder it.
Unfortunately, we may be coming upon a point where teaching jobs, engineers, doctors, and lawyers, are the only people seeing any real substantial benefit to college.
Translation: don’t go just to go. Go with a purpose.
8. How entrepreneurial are you?
While most would advise you to go to college or learn a trade and being working, there are far too many examples of high school and college dropouts, who started their own business and grew it into millions of dollars to completely dismiss such a path.
Of course, everyone can learn a thing or two from the entrepreneurial mindset even if they don’t plan on starting a business. Decide how well you like control and a free-flowing structure to your life.
You may just want to drop everything and pursue a business. But if so, be warned: it’s not easy, and it will require you to learn just as much if not more as you would in 4 to 8 years of college.
9. When was the last time someone complimented you for something you did extremely well (not sports-related)?
If you still feel a tad directionless, think back to the last time that someone complimented you on something that you did well. Sports are likely where your thoughts turn first, but challenge that. Instead focus on school and more cerebral activities.
When other people pay you compliment on a job well done, you’re not only getting a nice pat on the back, you’re getting some genuine insight into what you are good at doing.
10. Where can you go to speak with someone that has practical experience doing what you wish to do?
Job shadowing, mentor programs, and internships, are all great ways to pick a professional’s brain. Even if it isn’t anything specific, though, seek out someone in your area who does the type of work you want to do, and ask them to sit and talk with you for 30 minutes to an hour. Most will be happy to make time for you.
As you wrestle with what comes next and that all important “What do I want to be when I grow up?” question, consider each of the 10 questions above and get serious about where you’re going. Good luck!
[Image via Pixel77]