I grew up around friends who knew what they wanted to be. I, on the other hand, had no clue. While I didn’t feel too terrible about it, I did feel like I was missing out on something communal. To get in on the action, I either needed to (1) discover exactly what I wanted to be, or (2) at least know what to say when I was asked the question: “What do YOU want to be when you grow up?” I chose to do the latter.
Fortunately, I was surrounded by cues on what would be acceptable to say. There were the books in my Early Readers series that told stories of mummies and daddies who worked in hospitals and schools and offices, doing important things all day while their kids were at school. There were the ‘let’s-pretend-we’re-grownups’ games played during recess that allowed me to try out different roles. But perhaps the most overt signals came from the adults around me whose palpable excitement could not be contained when a child exclaimed “Doctor!” “Lawyer!” “Astronaut” or “President!” in response to that taxing question.
So when I turned 6, I decided on [DRUM ROLL] … Doctor. It wasn’t what I necessarily wanted to BE, but it was what I had decided to say: it was a frontrunner in all the above scenarios; and adults seemed to adore the idea. So I kept the ruse going well into early adolescence.
But by 15, my genuine disinterest in medicine revealed itself. I found my Biology and Chemistry classes to be interesting, but more tedious than I had patience to tolerate. I loved applying myself and was never one to shy away from my studies, but this felt different. The work didn’t feel worth it.
I don’t recall telling my mother that I no longer wanted to be a doctor, but I must have, because at some point, I switched into the subjects of Business and Spanish and she raised no memorable objection. But inside, I was a bit confused: I still felt the same pressure to narrow in on a set of subjects that would be the foundation of a future profession, yet had no natural inclination towards any particular area. Well, except for dance. I wanted to be a dancer. But that was not going to happen. Subject for another post.
So I stayed the course with Business and Spanish and went on to major (naturally) in International Business at University. The passion still had not emerged, and I had no idea where inside that field I would want to land, but I ploughed away. I continued ploughing away through Business School all the way to my first corporate job… and that’s when, with the help of caring coaches, exceptional managers and empathetic mentors, I began to uncover some truths about myself and nuggets of wisdom that continue to propel me forward in life.
- It’s okay to not know what you want to do when you grow up. Not having a clearly defined vision of a final professional end state made it easy for me to say yes to new opportunities. I probably would not be where I am today if it wasn’t for this mindset.
- Understand what you like to do inside of your job, then find ways to do more of it. Early on in my career, I recall feeling extremely anxious about my future. Although I was doing well in my job, I felt like a fraud because in my mind, I was destined to be doing other things with my life (like dancing! or running a small business!) and my new reality was inconsistent with this vision I had for myself. With the help of my then Life Coach, I was able to understand and embrace the fact that there were elements of the work that I truly enjoyed – problem solving, working on a team, storytelling, etc. – because they were strengths transferred from my former life as a professional dancer. These became some of my ‘must haves’ as I moved into new roles.
- You don’t have to end up where you started. Whether it’s a new opportunity inside your current company, a cross-functional assignment, a change of company, a side hustle on top of your day job, or a return to education to enter an entirely new field, you have the power to mix things up, experiment and make changes in your life. It is never too late to start something new – you can have as many acts in life as you desire.
So tell me… when you were younger, did you have a clear picture of what you wanted to be doing when you grew up? Are you doing it, or has life taken you onto other paths which you had not initially imagined for yourself?