8 Reasons to Stop Asking: “What do you want to be when you grow up?” – Hidden Power of Words Series, #21

Children and young adults are bombarded with various forms of the question “what do you what to be when you grow up” from almost day one. Such questions are important in that we need to always think about the future, but there are many more problems with such questions when we examine the hidden power of these words. 

1. These questions imply there is a time when we can, do, and should stop growing

2. And further subtly demonize and artificially divide the time when a person is and is not “grown up.”

3. They suggest there is only one thing a person can and should do. (Grammar matters!)

4. And that a person needs to decide as soon as possible.  

5. And that the person actually has full choice in said matter. 

6. They assume the answer involves a job/career and not a characteristic, such as a loving aunt or animal caretaker. 

7. They falsely assume every person–even “grow ups”–is already aware of the full scope of jobs that exist and will exist. (And the template of job possibilities a person knows about is almost solely informed by the geopolitical area in which he/she lives. This problem also makes many career days problematic.)

8. Such questions and conversations almost never involve a discussion of how to actually achieve said thing. (Leading to students sometimes having “cognitive dissonance” between their goal of being a surgeon and their classroom behavior.) 

Please visit the full Hidden Power of Words Series here.


Categories: Thoughts and Perspectives

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4 replies

  1. Good Points. >

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I read this quickly earlier, but came back to it and thought about it today. Really convicting! I will never ask a student again, “What do you plan to do with this degree?” Learning for learning’s sake is reason enough for pursuing a degree! So many times, some knowledge I learned along the way to earning a degree “popped up” again to make a “connection” which made it possible to learn/think about a new skill or idea. Advice we need to pass along to our students: never throw away or completely delete notes, papers, etc. They may be useful further down the road. And always remember to save/write down/note where you got the information from.

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  3. Powerful article. You put into words what I have been intuiting for years. Thank YOU! I am a career coach helping people from 17 to 70 decide what they want to be when they grow up. This is an ever changing environment. What we want at one stage is not what we want at another. I always ask my clients when they were young what they talked about being or who they admired or so many other connections that others may see as nonsensical. If a calligraphy course Steve Jobs took can be helpful in making Apple successful then why not use our other interests to contribute to our own success.

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