Posted by: thediygeochemist | January 9, 2011

who do you want to be?

What do you want to be when you grow up?

No doubt you heard this a million times when you were a kid. Or a teen. Maybe you still hear it now. I started asking myself that question (again) when I was 36. If I had a buck for every time I’ve asked my kids this question, I could probably fund a very nice trip to Hawaii.

What do you want to be when you grow up? seems to be “the” question to ask a kid if you want to have a meaningful conversation. But I think that when we ask this, we are asking the wrong question. And so I propose to change the question to one I’ve been asking myself more recently:

Who do you want to be when you grow up?

See, when you ask someone what they want to be when they grow up–ask them what career they aspire to–you are basically telling them that their (future) career is going to be the most important part of their life. But it’s not.

When I was very young, I told myself: “I want to be an astronaut.” Sadly, this didn’t work out. When I was a newlywed, during my undergrad years, I told myself: “First I will be a mother. Then I will be a high school teacher.” And so, after graduation, I started along the path I’d laid out for myself.

But within a couple of years I realized the folly of this way of thinking. As much as I loved my boys, as much as I enjoyed being a stay-at-home mom, I could never *just* be a mom. It was a rewarding career in many ways (none financial, of course), but it didn’t take advantage of several essential parts of my personality.

No career will, or can, completely fulfill you. But even if you did have a very rewarding career, ask yourself this question: will your job completely define who you are?

Of course it won’t. My current career ambition is to become a professor. Does that mean I will be like all the professors I have met in my life? Hardly! Professors, as a lot, are a very diverse group. Some are introverts; some are extraverts. Some are strict; some are softies. Some give reams of homework; some give none. In other words, what defines a professor as a person–or even as a professor–has to do with his or her underlying personality.

This brings me back to the question I think we should be asking our kids (and ourselves):

Who do you want to be when you grow up?

This is a question I have been pondering very seriously for the last few months. I can’t answer it now–this post is already long enough, and it will take me many posts to explore this question–but be on the lookout for my thoughts on who I want to become. And think about the question yourself.

Not everyone who desires to become president can become president. Not everyone who wishes to become a millionaire will become a millionaire. But everyone who earnestly seeks to become courteous, kind, generous, and good will reach their goal.



  1. Love this. When I think back to my younger self and imagine how she would answer these 2 questions, or even as I ask myself now, the answer to “who” is very different from the “what.”

    Sadly, I am not doing either. I think I might answer this more in-depth over on my blog if this kiddo ever takes a nap.

  2. This is a good question to ask. My short answer is “not my mother.”

  3. I wanted to be a fire truck when I was little.

    • My son Will wanted to be a motorcycle when he was 2.

  4. Thanks for sharing, am thinking seriously….. PHD,Msc -MBA,ARMY,IT or BUSINESS…. Ur post is gradualy making me think more, am finding it hard to sacrifice my childhood Dream with Reality.

  5. A very good post. I wish I’d thought of/known to do this when my children were small., to encourage growth of their character and who they’ve become above a career path.

  6. […] I want to be: part I As I said in a previous post, I’ve spent a lot of time over the last few months thinking about who I want to be–the […]

  7. […] January:I finally get around to choosing a committee. I also write one of my more popular posts of all time, asking readers to ponder who they want to be. […]

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