When I was about six years old, I decided that when I grew up, I wanted to have all of the jobs, expect whatever it was that my mom did, because her job seemed boring and sometimes she didn’t come home until after dinner. This career ambition was, of course, ridiculous and childish (I was six), but I remember feeling pressure (I was six) from teachers, books, Sesame Street, etc., to settle on a plan for my distant future, so I decided to go with something that covered all my bases.
Looking back on this, I’ve decided to make one of those funny declarations that people without children make so easily: I will never ask my future children what they want to be when they grow up.
To be sure, I certainly want my unborn children to have dreams and ambitions. I just don’t think we have any business expecting someone who was recently potty trained to articulate how they wish to spend their adult life.
I will never ask my children what they want to be when they grow up because we live in a culture where discontentment is the norm. Boredom comes easily to us and we need constant change and stimulation. One of the ways that this manifests itself is in the prevalent need to have something to look forward to – an event, milestone, accomplishment, whatever. In constantly looking toward the future, sometimes we lose interest in the present. Children might be the exception to this: they’re not really thinking long term, and they shouldn’t be. I want to form my children in such a way that they are comfortable being content with the present.
I will never ask my children what they want to be when they grow up because their teachers, books, and Sesame Street will already have already nagged them about this, and I know that they will continue to get that question a lot once they’re teenagers and young adults. We spend our entire youth dreaming about adulthood and when we finally get there we discover that it’s not a dream come true – it’s real life, and it’s actually kind of mundane. In our twenties and thirties, we probably won’t be working at our dream jobs or making a huge difference in the world. Objectively, that’s totally fine, but it’s hard to avoid disappointment – this is what I’ve been looking forward to since I was six?
I will never ask my children what they want to be when they grow up because I want them to know that there is so much more to life that one’s career. If they never get their dream job, or never even figure out what their dream job is, I don’t want them to feel that existential anxiety that millennials are so prone to. While I won’t ask them what they want to be when they grow up, I might ask them what kind of house they want to live in, or what kind of pets they want to own, or where they might go on vacation, or what kind of Christmas traditions they’d like to have with their future families. Because all of these things are important too, and in a culture where jobs often dictate lives, we rarely encourage kids to dream about domesticity.
I will never ask my children what they want to be when they grow up because while I don’t care very much about which college they go to (if any) or which career path they follow, I am extremely interested in what kind of people they turn out to be. I want them to be the kind of people who invest in their communities, love well, and do everything – at work, at home, at the grocery store, everywhere – with excellence, because these things are far more important than what is listed on their resumes.
I will never ask my children what they want to be when they grow up because I am not working at my dream job, I’m totally okay with that, and it’s way more fun to think about what kind of crazy ambitions I have for my future family than it is to think about the next step in my career.