Does everyone have a purpose? And what happens if you accidentally spend your life doing something else? The “What do you want to be when you grow up?” question is a fun exercise when you’re little, but it takes on more seriousness as you start to age.
When you’re a young child, all you know is which jobs look cool and what looks more like fun than work. That’s why you get answers like trash man, racecar driver or Slurpee tester at 7-Eleven. But as you get older, stuff like paychecks, benefit packages and which careers are socially acceptable factor into the equation. Which might explain why you gave up your dream to become the Jack in the Box clown, and I quit telling my teachers I was going to be the first woman editor of Mad Magazine. I have a high-school age daughter and I’m finding that teachers and counselors are asking the kids to think about their career choices at an increasingly younger age. My daughter often comes home asking what various jobs pay, and I suspect this is because well-meaning counselors are discussing career options and, being presented with a bunch of job descriptions, the kids instinctively understand that they’re supposed to choose one where they can make a decent living.
On the face of it, this is fine. I’m all for giving kids a vision for the future. But if you just talk about job descriptions, you’re missing half the equation. It’s kind of hard to pick a career when you haven’t had any help in identifying your own skills and talents. In today’s high stakes test environment, I’m amazed at how little time schools are allowed to devote toward self-discovery. It’s all about being good at everything and how well you do on the test. Yet a lack of true self-knowledge is why so many people slog along in the wrong careers for decades. Personally, I think schools would be better off giving a Myers Briggs or similar personality test to the kids before they start asking them to chart out their entire lives.
But I may be a bit overly sensitive about this issue because, ever since my third-grade teacher told me I couldn’t make a living telling snot jokes, I’m resentful of anyone who squelches a kid’s natural calling. Yes, in my spare time I’m not a frazzled mother or writer, I’m the Dream Defender. So how do you connect the inner yearnings of your heart with a career choice? This is where your original unfiltered answer to the “What do you want to be when you grow up?” question comes into play. When you’re a little kid, you have an innate sense of who you are and what you love to do. The world hasn’t started messing with you yet.
Which means that the career you dreamed about at age 7 might be closer to your true life’s purpose than the job you’re doing at 35. I do believe that we all have a purpose. Quite simply, our purpose is to put our skills and talents into the service of the universe. Your purpose might be big or it might be small, and it usually changes over time. But there’s an element of what you loved doing as a child that holds the clues to your true calling. So think back to those early dreams, because as it turns out you actually can make a living telling snot jokes