What Do You Want to Be When You Grow Up?
It's the age-old question you've probably been asked repeatedly since you were old enough to recite the alphabet: "What do you want to be when you grow up?"Comedian Paula Poundstone once quipped, "Adults are always asking little kids what they want to be when they grow up because they're looking for ideas."
Joking aside, it's a reasonable question, but considering the context in which people ask it, it's not completely accurate. The real answer that most people are looking for is "what do you want to do" when you grow up -- meaning what job title you will carry, what type of company you will work for, what type of duties you will carry out in a career.
You've no doubt encountered this thinking when well-meaning friends and relatives try to steer you away from the arts and in the direction of a traditional day job.
Again, these are understandable questions. But they miss the real point of finding one's ideal vocation.
According to Sam Keen, "There is no easy formula for determining right and wrong livelihood, but it is essential to keep the question alive. We have to stop pretending that we can make a living at something that is trivial or destructive and still have a sense of legitimate self-worth. A society in which vocation and job are separated for most people gradually creates an economy that is often devoid of spirit, one that frequently fills our pocketbooks at the cost of emptying our souls."
So how do you determine the best way to fill your soul? Answer: Ask better questions. Instead of "What do you want to be or do?" ... answer these two questions:
- How do you want to feel most of the time?
- What type of person would you like to become?
Your emotions are a great indicator of when you're connected and in the flow, as opposed to when you're disconnected and frustrated. The key is to identify the feelings and states of being that make you feel the most purposeful and alive. Your ideal vocation will be directly linked to the activities that generate these positive feelings within you the most.
Tip: Although these states of mind make you feel good, they are rarely strictly self-serving. They almost always come from doing something that serves others -- such as creating music or art or literature that touches people in meaningful ways. But these feelings can just as easily come from teaching children, building furniture, volunteering for a charity, etc.
The second question above will also lead to a better understanding of your right livelihood. When pursuing a purpose and activities that are in line with who you truly are, you grow as a person -- far more than you would in a job you tolerate to pay the bills.
Who you become as you invest your time and energy into a worthy pursuit makes all the difference. Again, this is far more than a job title such as "musician," "author" or "artist." Who you become can also be described with such words as respected, trusted, creative, determined, passionate and happy.
What words describe who you want to become?
Let's examine one more quote, this time from poet Robert Frost: "The brain is a wonderful organ. It starts working the moment you get up in the morning, and does not stop until you get into the office."
There are times when you have to take on a brain-dead "real job" to make ends meet. No doubt, you must take care of your basic needs in whatever way you can. But as you think about your life long term, focus on how you want to feel and who you want to become.
Because that's where you'll find the true path to what you should be when you grow up.