A couple days ago we had our friend’s 3rd grader in the car with us. She’s a sweet and very adorable kid, and conversations with her are always entertaining. In an attempt to keep her occupied during our drive we asked the one question grown ups love to discuss with children: “What do you want to be when you grow up?”
At first her answer wasn’t surprising. Veterinarian. Doctor. Astronaut. However, her list became a little more flavorful as she described things that had nothing to do with a career.
“I want to be a weed puller for my neighbors”
“I want to be a person who makes babies laugh”
“I want to be a traveler!”
My husband and I got a good giggle out of her long (very long) list of ambitions, but she struck me with the uniqueness of her answers. Children are asked all the time what they want to be when they grow up, and somewhere down the line they learn exactly what to say in order to please the grown ups of our career driven society. They can parrot a list of well payed prestigious careers that so many people value. America is filled with little wannabe doctors, lawyers, astronauts, scientists, and presidents. We have trained kids from a very young age that what they should strive to be is a career.
It was refreshing to hear a little girl want more than that. She didn’t want to be just a career. She wanted to be a person. Someone who cares about her neighbors. Someone who has enough of a personality to brighten a baby’s day. Someone who has a hobby, and a sense of adventure. When asked what she wanted to be her future career wasn’t the defining factor. She projected an entire character to strive for.
Our society struggles with an inability to accurately determine self-worth. We care too much about the money we make. The house we live in. The career we have. We are taught that we should find jobs which suit our passions, even though it is near impossible for the majority of people to do so. It is a rare thing to see someone who separates passion from work, or has priorities outside of their job. Heaven forbid someone sees their career simply as a means to pay for the things they truly value, rather than valuing their work above other things.
What this conversation showed me was how quickly children catch on to a job centered attitude. Her list of non-career related answers made me smile because they were so different from what I was expecting, but what I was expecting is actually pretty sad. I assumed I would hear a list of high paying professions which require years of hard work and school. That is what most kids resort to when asked what they want to be.
Not her though. She wants more out of life, and it is so encouraging to know that I don’t have to push my own children to be like everybody else. I can teach them the priorities that really matter. I can teach them that they can do anything they want to do for money, but happiness is not limited to work.
The person you are is not the title you have at a job. The person you are is defined by your everyday actions, in and out of work. It is defined by the things that interest you, and the priorities you cherish.
If growing up means losing that perspective, then I don’t want my kids to be grown ups.