From an early age, well-meaning adults asked you the dreaded question that some people still cannot answer today, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” I can remember wanting to become an adventure writer who would tour the world writing about what I saw. In college, the guidance counselors did not necessarily help students discover their talents and abilities, but rather rushed them to fill out seemingly arbitrary Academic Development Plans to use as course selection guides.
As I got older, I found that I was nowhere closer to answering the “what do you want to be when you grow up” question than when I was five. In fact, the world had given me a million reasons why my adventurer writing job would not pay the bills.Is it possible that we do not spend enough time experimenting and discovering who we are and where we might uniquely contribute the most value in society? Taking personal responsibility for discovering the answer to that question takes a great deal of self-awareness. You can only be what you are, so taking time in your journey to discover who you are and what you enjoy doing is a good first step in determining your next step.
If you are still asking that question, here are few things to remember along your journey:
- Experience is the best teacher. Even if you take a position and discover you never want to do it again, you moved a step closer to discovering what you do – or don’t – want to do in the future! Don’t stop there. Take the time to evaluate the tasks you did and the culture in which you worked. What did you like about it? What specific parts were not a good fit? Keep in mind that every job will require you to do some element of things you don’t necessarily like doing. It builds character and humility.
- Don’t be afraid to take some risks. With great risk comes great reward. The worst thing that can happen is that you will “fail forward” a step closer to the direction of your preferred future. The greatest innovative thinkers of our day decided that taking the traditional routes would give them exactly what they expected and that wasn’t good enough! Where is the adventure in that? Maybe I am an adventure writer after all; we are all the writers of our own journeys.
- Write a plan and take a pencil (with an eraser) along the journey. Life has a natural momentum that takes some turns you will not expect. It is crucial to remain agile, adaptable, and reinvent yourself with every aspect of the redesign stage. Your abilities will fit multiple organizations, jobs, and roles. If you want someone else to see that, you have to realize it first and help your potential employer see you’re capable of doing many different things.
If you embrace this question as a lifetime explorer, then at the end of your life you will have contributed value to many organizations and teams in many different ways. “The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new lands but in seeing with new eyes”-Proust