Imagine being back in first grade. Your teacher asks you to draw a picture of what you want to become in the future, and you excitedly sketch a rough, distorted image of a doctor, astronaut, princess, or Autobot. You receive a gold star and lots of encouragement, and no one minds when you change your career choice to Jedi the following week.
However, as you grow older, this exercise transitions from a joyful act of imagination to one filled with anxiety and stress. You navigate through school without a clear direction, enjoying your classes but never discovering a singular passion. While those around you become writers, police officers, and business executives, you find yourself with a string of jobs and a few hobbies.
Now that you’re in your 20s, 30s, or 40s, you wonder why you still haven’t figured out what you want to be when you grow up. Is there something wrong with you?
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Analyzing a Flawed Question
Not at all. Despite its prevalence, this question loses its usefulness once Jedi is no longer a viable career option. It is based on false assumptions.
One of these flawed assumptions is the belief that there is only one correct answer—a dream job that leads to eternal happiness. Answer correctly, and you will live a fulfilled life, but if you choose the wrong path, contentment will always elude you. This assumption might work for a protagonist in an adventure movie, but it falls short when confronted with the complexities of real life.
Secondly, the question confuses one’s career with one’s identity. While our careers are an essential part of who we are, they are not the entirety. We are also friends, hobbyists, travelers, and members of families, social networks, and religious groups. No one dreams of growing up to be a good friend, yet friendships remain vital to our adult lives.
By excluding these variables, we limit our view of future fulfillment and constrain our understanding of ourselves.
Reformulating the Question
Rather than asking what you want to be when you grow up, consider asking what you want to do when you grow up. In other words, what kind of lifestyle do you desire?
To find an answer, visualize your own version of a fulfilling life. Does it involve traveling, earning a substantial income, having leisure time for loved ones, being your own boss, or making a positive impact on society? Once you have sketched out your ideal lifestyle, you can choose from the many careers that will help you achieve it.
This revised question shifts your mindset away from the belief that there is only one path leading to one goal. Instead, it opens up numerous possibilities that can lead to a more general, yet ideal, lifestyle.
Let Your Passions Evolve
While a career is still important, adopting a lifestyle-focused mindset relieves the pressure to find the perfect one. As suggested by the Washington Post’s Life section, this means following your curiosity rather than your passions.
Relying solely on your passions, much like asking what you want to be when you grow up, leads you to view career and life satisfaction as inseparable. But what happens if yesterday’s intense passion fizzles out tomorrow? Will you be resigned to a life of unfulfilling mediocrity?
Rather than pursuing your passions, the Washington Post’s Life section recommends using curiosity to explore careers that allow you to develop new skills. As your skills, successes, and confidence grow, your passions will naturally evolve. While passions may fade over time, skills are more durable, and you can leverage them to pivot into new careers that spark your curiosity.
To start, make a list of careers or fields that intrigue you. Then ask yourself if any of them captivate you enough to invest time and effort into acquiring the necessary skills. Next, evaluate whether any of the shortlisted careers align with your desired lifestyle goals. For example, if you prioritize a low-stress environment and flexible schedule, a career as a stockbroker, despite its six-figure income potential, may not be the best fit.
If you find a career that both interests you and matches your preferred lifestyle, give it a try. Remember, you can always make a change later on.
Embrace the Freedom of Choice
Life is fluid, and our interests evolve. The career that once fascinated you may lose its appeal, and the lifestyle you once deemed important may now seem trivial. In these situations, don’t be afraid to pivot into a new career.
Emilie Wapnick refers to those who pursue multiple careers as “multipotentialites.” She emphasizes that it’s never a waste of time to pursue something that draws you in. One overlooked benefit of multiple careers is the ability to transfer skills from one field to another. It may seem unconventional, but Wapnick’s perspective is ideal for those who still haven’t discovered what they want to be when they grow up.
So, embrace the title of multipotentialite. With it, you can establish a lifestyle goal and pursue it through various paths. If one career doesn’t work out as expected or an unforeseen opportunity arises, you can simply switch directions. Since you are moving toward a lifestyle rather than a single career, you will always be working towards your goal. Sure, drawing the concept of a multipotentialite may be more challenging than sketching a Jedi, but it can be equally fulfilling.
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