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.

How to stay passionate about things you don’t enjoy. 1- Focus on your greatness

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

A friend of mine asked me a very interesting question when I posted on passion.

My friend asked me whether I think passion is actually necessary. What do you think?

I just happened to be reading ‘Mastery’ by Robert Greene today and this is how he puts it: ‘In our culture we tend to equate thinking and intellectual powers with success and achievement. In many ways, however, it is an emotional quality that separates those who master a field from the many who simply work a job. Our levels of desire, patience, persistence and confidence end up playing a much larger role in success than sheer reasoning powers. ‘ 

Very interesting book by the way. I can’t put it down.

This reminded me of my promise to write about how I stay passionate about things that I don’t necessarily enjoy. I try to live purposefully, but it doesn’t mean I am always passionate to work on the next proposal, even though I might be passionate about the possibility of it being successful.

One thing that helps me stay driven is focusing on my greatness. I am great. There will never be another me. Does this sound vain? You are great too. There will never be another you.

Think about the fact that your genetic makeup only occurs with you. You are uniquely you- with your unique set of experiences, strengths, idiosyncrasies etc. If you think about the fact that you are the only you to ever grace this world, you realize that you are great.

Sometimes when we think of greatness, we automatically assume that for one to be great, that means others are not. I think this is because when 7 billion of us are conforming to a few established norms then of course, it is always win-lose.

However, when I talk of greatness, I don’t mean preconceived norms of what greatness should be. I don’t mean the degree your parents told you to get, or the title that everyone will applaud you for. I mean that expression of your unique genetic identity that only you have. That imprint that only YOU were designed to leave on this world.

Sometimes we have this either/or thinking ingrained in us where we think that a success implies a failure. You think you being great implies someone not being great. We blame the rich for the problems of the poor. We envy the nerds for making everyone else look bad. We look down on the celebrities that successfully rose to top because they are enjoying life even though they didn’t do what we were told was the right thing to do to be successful.

Look at the immenseness of the universe. Where did we get our scarcity mentality from? There are infinite possibilities for greatness. The only reason why we have the competitive mentality is because we are yet to find our own unique greatness. We are conforming, comparing, fighting to be everything but who we were gifted to be. We are using others as yardsticks for our lives when in fact the only yardstick for you is your greatness.

Since you have a unique scientific makeup, you actually don’t need to compete with others. There is no one like you in the first place, so all you need to do is compete with that greatness in you.

Don’t think win-lose.Think win-win. You can be great and I need you to be great because your greatness is connected to our collective human story. When you find your greatness you don’t put others at a disadvantage, you actually become a gift to the world because your story and the world you create opens up possibilities to others.

Now that you understand my concept of greatness let me get back to my point.

When I keep my greatness -that profound imprint that only I can leave in this world- in sight I merge it with my present mundane task.

Find your ‘why’ and keep it in sight. Make sure that you interpret your present in the context of the story of your greatness. By the mere fact that there is no one like you on the planet, there is greatness within you that the world is waiting for.

Make it happen.

Thoughts, questions, objections, contributions?