Why ‘what do you want to be when you grow up’ is a dangerous question to ask kids.

Psst: I’ve moved. Visit me here http://streetsideconvos.com. Maybe the new blog will be for you. Maybe not.

A few summers ago, I met up with an old classmate and we caught up on what he was up to and vice versa.  With my background in the sciences then moving to global health, doing lots of traveling and also going on a literary tour in Europe to focus more on my writing, he found this too undefined. He finally answered me with the question , “So what exactly are you?”. I asked him to explain his question and he said you know like engineer, doctor, something specific.

I find these kinds of titles restrictive and I tend to reject them on an emotional level. However I grew up in an environment where this kind of thinking is pervasive. Right from when you start talking, uncles, aunties, teachers, and whoever has an emotional vested interest in you ask you what you want to be -engineer, doctor, pharmacist, pilot, lawyer- being the ones that got the most positive reinforcement.

I want to share about why I think this is a dangerous question to be asking kids, or even ourselves.

First off, we are moving further away from the Industrial Age and the thinking associated with it to an era where we value meaning and awesomeness over mediocre mass production. Think about the goods and services that are doing great in our times. They always have the WOW factor and a meaningful story informing them. If the Industrial Age is ending and we are needing less and less standardization why teach kids to be standardized?

Secondly, studying the truly great in any sphere of life, you’ll soon see how an intense emotional commitment to what they do separates them from the mediocre. That is why they persist even after failing over and over again. If you don’t figure out what you are borderline obsessed with, what you feel you can do with the WOW factor, you reduce your odds for greatness and mastery. Can you see how this is a more important issue to settle before committing to an ‘occupation’ – for happiness or even purely economic reasons?

So I propose a better way.

In an era where we celebrate meaning and excellence over standardized mediocrity, I propose that we ask questions that make us think about how we want to show up in the world everyday. These can be questions like – what kind of life do you want to live? Not only does this question put the whole of life in perspective it also aims at your unique blueprint and gives room for more possibilities. For example, I want to show up as courageous. I also value mastery. I value connection with people but more than that empowering people and in a way that keeps on giving. I value uniqueness. While the expression may change at any given time the most productive way to use my time will have to be at the intersection of these affinities.

Imagine if we helped kids to show up everyday in a way that helped them practice, refine and experiment with their innate affinities. By the time they have to choose careers they would have more clarity about what they are here to do and what they can be great at. Outside the box living has never been more possible so why stifle their creativity and capacity for independent thinking? Why put pressure on them to fit into straight jacket occupations that we are not sure will even exist when they are done school?

Let me give you an example. 

In secondary school, when I heard that no girl had ever been the valedictorian in the history of the school, inspired by my affinity for excellence I did it. The occupation mentality would say that it proves I was made to be a doctor, lawyer or engineer since I was so intelligent. The mentality I propose would rather say it proved that I value mastery and then nurture me to own and feed this desire, while finding out how I can design my life to intersect it with the world’s current needs so I could make a happy living from it.

Which one is more empowering and gives me room to fly? I think the latter.

I think there would be so much more benefit to this world if kids were prepared to show up everyday in a way that represented the things they intrinsically enjoyed and given small platforms to use and strengthen their core gifting instead of just preparing them for careers, especially in the 21st century. Altogether I think this is a more empowering way to think and live life.

Why your boring job is perfect for you

Psst: I’ve moved. Visit me here http://streetsideconvos.com. Maybe the new blog will be for you. Maybe not.

There are so many interesting things going on in our time in terms of how much more of a space there is for contributing creatively to the world versus back in the day when everything was about mass producing. In that sense I feel like there is room for us to all give our unique contribution to the world.

However truth be told, on the way to that there are so many loops and turns, and I am sure that at some point you can find yourself in a situation that seems so far from where you plan to be, and you just wonder, what am I going to do with all my ideas? Am I even any step closer to my dreams? I’ve been there many times.

I was reading about the example I gave in number 3 below that sparked this post and I thought I should share.  So here are my thoughts on my tongue in cheek title 🙂

First of all, a boring job is a great way to know what you do NOT want to do with your life.

Most of us seem to be comfortable but not excited, possibly living a decent life but not our best lives. At least YOU feel something even if it is tedium or frustration. Sometimes we need that extra push and this can be just what you need to finally overcome your fears and take the risk of giving your dreams a shot.

Secondly, your boring job just might be freeing up your mental energy for your passion.

While waiting for something more fulfilling, this is the perfect time to redirect your mental energy into creative expression. Since your emotional energy is not being fully tapped by your job, you have more than enough of it to focus on the things you are truly passionate about.

Albert Einstein did the exact same thing. When he graduated in 1900 at the bottom of his class, he could not get a job as a teacher for obvious reasons. However his father offered him an engineering job, and he also had the opportunity of getting a lucrative job in insurance but he turned both down because he didn’t want that to drain his mental energy (isn’t that interesting?).

Instead he took a boring job in a patent office where he would just be analyzing applications. Doing this sharpened his reasoning skills; also because it was so mundane he was able to do it quickly and then focus on his own ideas while at work. It was while working this boring job that he did most of the work that would be his theory of relativity.

Maybe there could be an opportunity for your own personal learning goals while working a boring job? Something to think about.

Thirdly, a boring job might be an opportunity for fresh insight. 

Remember the boring article I was reading? It was about the history of public health. I don’t like history BUT, I read about an interesting story from the 1700s. Back then scientists were still arguing about what causes food to go bad. A scientist called Lazzaro Spallanzani discovered that you could prevent things from spoiling by keeping them in air tight conditions and applying heat. While scientists were still debating this (then they didn’t believe microbes were in the air), a distiller and confectioner in Paris took this idea and applied it to his business in the food industry to preserve food and wine. While the scientific world was catching up to reality a Parisian businessman was using this discovery in the food industry.

Sometimes staying stuck in one field keeps you narrow-minded. Getting out of it even if it is due to a mundane job can give you fresh inspiration. Think about it; sometimes the most creative ideas come from people completely out of the field.

So there you go. Even though you might feel stuck and stifled in your creativity or personal fulfilment, maybe there is some value in the mundane if you look closely enough. Your boring job might just be watering those seeds of greatness in you. Maybe the question is not about your circumstances but about whether you will still go to work in pursuing those things dear to you that the world just might be waiting for.

Do you have any more reasons to add? How did you get something generative out of a mundane circumstance?