Why “What Do You Want to Be?” Is the Wrong Question

Today was a themed dress day at my son’s school as a part of a fundraiser. The signs around the school said “Free Dress Day! What do you want to be when you’re older?” The suggestions included fashion designer and chef. 

Late last week, when I first saw the signs at school, I asked my son, “What are you going to wear for what you want to be when you grow up on the free dress day?”

I know he wants to be a music producer and once in a while, I hear architect too. I was curious what he’d pick. 

He didn’t hesitate and said, “I’m going to go dressed as myself. I always want to be me no matter what I do.”

Let’s hold here for a sec. 

He wants to be himself. Yes, his mom is a coach, but he also gets it. Your job is one dimension of who you are, not the be-all-end-all. Until you have a clear sense of self, it’s easy to get lost in the climb. 

Okay. Unfreeze. The next scene isn’t quite as pretty but probably seems familiar to you. 

Last night at dinner he started to doubt his choice. 

“They mean job…”

“What if I get in trouble?”

“Should I just wear my baseball uniform and say I want to be a baseball player?”

Ahhh. Hello, Self-Doubt. I knew you’d make an appearance. 

Just Be You

The advice to just be you sounds so simple, but in practice can be so hard. It’s scary and vulnerable to let the “who you are” beneath “what you do” shine through. 

We become masterful at hiding our full-selves at work. We’ve become so obsessed with looking and playing the part that we start to let it define us. 

I’m the boss, so this is what I need to do/look/be like.

I’m a creative.

I’m a professional. 

You name it, and there are expectations around it. 

It’s true that sometimes playing a part can help us embrace it and internalize it but it shouldn’t take over. You are more than any of the jobs that you’ve ever had or any of the titles on your business card. You’re more than the brand of your shirt and more than the size of your corner office. You’re you. 

Here’s the scoop: People are inspired by you, not your outfit. They’re touched by your human-ness more than the size of your office. If you want a fulfilling, happy life, you need to keep in touch with who you are and what makes you want to get out of bed in the morning beyond your paycheck.

Ultimately my son took a deep breath, put on a favorite t-shirt and shorts and went to school. 

“I’m me. I can’t worry that someone else won’t like my choice.”

Right on, my boy. Right on. 

If “What do you want to be when you grow up?” is the wrong question, what’s the right one?

Instead of worrying about what you want to be when you grow up, start with who you want to be – because that’s what makes all the difference.

So… who do you want to be when you grow up?

Are you showing up as your full-self or still only bringing slices with you everywhere you go? 

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