"What do you want to be when you grow up?" is the wrong question

ageism authenticity changing mindset field vs occupation self awareness

"What do you want to be when you grow up?" 

This is probably the most common first career question that most of us have ever been asked. Frankly, I think this is a terrible career question. It does a lot of things that really don't apply to the world today.

It sets a mindset that I think is wrong. And let's talk about it. 

The first thing that I don't like about this question is the word "What" 

"What" implies that you have to pick just one thing. You have to decide, finally, for good, what you want to do as a career. Well, the truth is you don't have to decide one thing.

There are all sorts of things that you can do. I have almost always had more than one job and never felt like I needed to just settle for one thing. 

The next part of this question I don't like is the word "BE". 

Who says that you have to "be" anything? You don't have to pick just one thing, and you don't have to be what you do. 

Just because you like to do things, doesn't mean that's who you are and that has to be your identity. You can have lots of different interests. You're going to have a whole bunch of different ways that you apply your skills and talents. So you don't have to "be" any one thing. 

And the last part of this question I don't like is "when you grow up".

Well, when does that happen? You know, that sort of implies that there is some time in your life when you've suddenly arrived, and you have to have it all figured out and we need to start adulting.

Well, frankly, I don't ever want to grow up, and I don't think there is such a time. 

The better question that I ask is:

"What types of things do you want to do next?"

You don't have to pick just one thing just because you do something doesn't mean that's your identity. And that's just looking at the next step. There's no "when I grow up" or some sort of point of arrival. 

Let's change the mindset a little bit, open ourselves up to possibilities, and realize that we have all sorts of things that we can do going forward.

And now it's just a matter of identifying and picking from those options.

Most of us have such a diverse set of skills, interests, and experiences, we can open ourselves up to all sorts of possibilities, and it's never too late. 

Sam Walton, the founder of Walmart, didn't even start that company until he was 43 years old. So virtually no matter where you are in your career, it's never too late, and you're never growing up.

Stay open to all sorts of possibilities.

You Can Be a "Professional" Anything

All right, the next thing to think about is the concept of being a "professional." 

Nowadays, you can make just about anything that you want to do into your "profession". 

What is your profession? It's just a way of earning a livelihood, right? Nowadays with technology, it doesn't have to just be one full-time 8 to 5 job.

There are all sorts of things and now more than ever. We are seeing people who don't want that Monday through Friday, 8 to 5 schedule. They want a little bit more flexibility or they want to work part-time on one thing and part-time on another thing. Or perhaps they have a personal life or family situation that doesn't afford them that opportunity.

And they need to do project work or gigs or things like that. 

So the point is, anything that you can think of can be turned into a profession. 

Look at your interests, look at your skills, the things you like to do, and if you want to make a living doing that, go for it! Go find people who are doing something associated with that and see what they're doing.

Ask questions and find out what sorts of opportunities are out there that maybe you hadn't thought of before.

Your Field vs. Your Occupation

Now, let's talk about the difference between a "Field" and an "Occupation".

This is a great concept that comes from the book "What Color Is Your Parachute?" by Richard Bolles, probably the most famous and bestselling career book of all time.

In his book, Bolles describes that every job is part of both a Field and an Occupation 

Let's look at an example. Here are three different fields with various occupations within them. 

We've got the television field, we've got the medical field, and we've got the construction field. Within those, there are various occupations. But you'll also notice that certain occupations within each of those fields can be shared in different industries.

Whenever you're looking at a job opportunity, be sure to identify the field and the occupation. Because you may find that even though you've never done that particular job, if you've been working in the field for a long time, or if you have experience in that field, you probably already speak the language. And so finding other work within that field can actually be fairly easy. 

Simultaneously, take a look at the occupation and you know, a set of skills is required to do a certain job, and often that set of skills can be translated into other fields. 

So Even though you've never worked in a particular industry, there might be a job opportunity in that industry that utilizes some of the skills that you already have and have experience in.

Understand that it's quite easy to move vertically within a field - cross training, trying new things, getting promoted, etc. And it's also pretty easy to take your skills from your occupation into other fields.

What's really challenging is to go diagonally, to change fields and occupations all at the same time. That can be a little bit tougher, but certainly not impossible.

An exercise you can do with this is take a look at your past experience, in the fields that you've worked. What are some other occupations within that field that you might be able to transition to, that you perhaps already know people, or have some of the experience required to do that. 

And simultaneously, if you're open to looking at other fields, identify all of your skills and tasks that you have done within your occupation, and try and think of other fields that those same skills might translate. This may help you uncover some ideas that you hadn't thought of before.

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