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.

Catalytic leadership

Last weekend I had to organize an event that I was really passionate about, like I told you in a previous video.

I had put so much effort into it, planned it, tried my best to make everything work out but since there were so many things I could not control- like who would turn up, how they would respond, the outcome of the night, etc- there was still a bit of nervousness somewhere in my heart.

Have you ever dealt with uncertainty?

Chances are, the more you try to do anything significant with your life the more you will have to deal with increasing levels of uncertainty. Our relationship with uncertainty is very important because it can affect our willingness to pursue those things that we were made to do.

A simple change of perspective has helped me to deal with uncertainty which I want to share with you.

It is the idea of catalytic leadership.

There is the ego-driven leader and then the catalytic leader.

For the ego-driven leader, everything centres on you. You don’t want to fail because you are afraid of looking bad. You want everything to go well because its all about you. You are the boss and you want to hold on to your false sense of control by getting everything to work out perfect at the expense of your happiness and that of others around you.

As a catalytic leader, it is about others. You realize that leadership is simply an opportunity. You have been entrusted with the humbling task of bringing out the best from everyone who has come your way and who you have the opportunity to influence.

Changing my mindset from making my nerves the centre of my attention to realizing it wasn’t about me opened me up to the joy of being a leader. I was simply a catalyst, organizing an event to help others get what they want out of life- be it fun, education, expanded networks, food (lol), and purpose. I was being sensitive to the needs of everyone around me to figure out the best way to meet it. I was giving them the opportunity to be a part of something great and to reorient themselves towards their passions and destinies; perhaps even open new perspectives for them.

This simple perspective- putting my ego aside and realizing I am simply a catalyst and the world doesn’t revolve around me- helps me help others and in turn help myself.

We make exchanges every day- we exchange our time, our resources, our money, our trust etc. As a leader, you want to make sure that instead of giving the least and expecting the most, you actually always give more value in every exchange you make. You give more value for the money paid for your time and services. You give more value for the time you share with others. You give back purpose for the resources you receive.

What of when you think you have nothing to give in return? In that case you wonder- how can you actually give value since you might think you are on the receiving end?

Not true. Value may not always be monetary.What I have learnt is that you can still give others value by giving them a platform to make a change, by respecting their thoughts, by allowing them to be part of something bigger than themselves, by being sensitive enough to notice their skills and to enable them get the best out of the experience, etc

That is your job as a leader, not to be the boss or figure head, but to put your ego aside and see how you can help others maximize their potential. Once you really get this, you won’t be short of followers and you won’t be short of success either.

Leadership is a great privilege. You never know why people step into your lives. Don’t miss the privilege of guiding them into their passions and destinies by being stuck in the me-first personality. Be a catalytic leader instead – a catalyst for the successes, happiness and destinies of others and in turn, your own destiny.

Desert Leader

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