I reckon we should stop asking kids this question, “What do you want to become when you grow up?” Not all kids get excellent marks in school, not all kids have a home where their parents pay full attention to them, not all kids have parents that are not divorced, not all kids have just the right circumstances to flourish and not all kids…
School can be so pressurising, and kids have their own problems for their age, i.e. just like you could be worrying about a meeting at work tomorrow or something that went wrong at work all night, kids could be worrying about a book that belonged to another classmate which they’ve taken home by mistake. Perhaps there is an upcoming exam that same week, and that person is going to be looking for the book everywhere. The whole night he or she is worried about returning the book, what to say and is terrified to be put into a box by the teacher or their classmates. Life only gives you what you can handle, and that saying goes for kids and adults.
Asking a kid, “what do you want to become when you’re older” is a question that the teacher asks them, their families ask them, their cousins ask them (even if the cousin is their age and has no idea either), and acquaintances ask. There is so much importance around this question that in Hindu communities and other communities, it’s become a finite thing. It’s very common to find teenagers and young adults committing suicide when they fail a final exam, or an important exam to become a doctor or something where their parents have invested a lot in.
With the current world even doctors, company directors, wealthy and educated people want to do something different. It’s sad to make the idea of becoming “someone” in your life as finite. Here are the reasons why. In the past, some parents gave their kids a choice to “become” who they want, or parents have invested in their kids and education so much that kids are pressured to become say a doctor, lawyer, pharmacist or whatever the family thinks they should study. Maybe they are aligned to that, or perhaps they’re good at maths, science, history just like they’re good at playing sports, or music or dancing. Maybe parents convince them to choose a profession because of their strongest subject on the report card while the child enjoys being creative much more than doing something intelligent even if they’re good at it.
Some people stay their whole life in one career and dream about changing, doing something completely different or even taking another route keeping the crucial factors of their career and yet hesitate to make these changes. Family, friends pressure them to stay in the safe space due to fear rather than encouraging risks. Think about it. Do you want to keep living safe wondering, living safely watching others take risks and then envying them when you’re not taking control of your happiness, but most of all do you want to keep living safely as opposed to living happily?
By asking a kid “what do you want to become when you get older” is giving them the limiting belief that they need to choose. Like me, I wondered, “What will happen if I still didn’t know at the age of fourteen and then feel pressured to quickly find it instead of it finding me because I am a year away from finishing high school and have the pressure to choose the university, college and studies. Some people are lucky that their circumstances make their destiny, but what about those who are still young to decide and have others deciding their lives for them?
“What do you want to become when you get older,” is a picture we’re painting to kids of an unreal life. In one year, we could have grown so much that a new theory could have been replaced by one belief because of a new concept or experience, so how can we really know for sure that the vocation we choose is going to be a finite and content choice? That is purely based on you coming to that realisation by yourself as you face everything in that vocation.
You have no idea what is ahead of you like say for example you get sick and the job you’ve been doing is no longer an option, i.e. you can’t stand up anymore or bend. Perhaps you’ve had an accident, your business is not doing well because of competition, or one day from all the years you’ve been travelling and doing things abroad you’ve come to a realisation that actually there’s something else you’re really passionate about. What if what you’re doing now, someone made you believe that’s your passion, or let’s say you simply are bored of it now?
Just the other day I asked this question to my nephew, and then thought but wait a minute, reflected back to the days I said I wanted to be a veterinarian and had no idea really what was required to be a veterinarian. I simply thought I loved animals so I can do that job until the harsh truth was that I needed maths. Of course, I would do anything to not have maths as a subject if I had the school doing things my way back then. I remember thinking that I needed to stick to it after all the other kids stuck to what they said they wanted to become every time they were asked that question in front of me. Life chose most of my beginnings due to circumstances, but if we think about it no one always gets to choose after all life happens and things don’t go as planned.
I think that we should all always give kids the chance to choose as it’s their life after all. Just like us in adulthood, we ask, “Do I have a lot of regrets?” Hopefully, the answer is that I’ve made a lot of mistakes and I lived a remarkable life but most of all I know how to come back, if I can do that, I can be anything I really want to be and at any age.
T. Dench Patel