“When I was 5 years old, my mother always told me that happiness was the key to life. When I went to school, they asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. I wrote down ‘happy’. They told me I didn’t understand the assignment, and I told them they didn’t understand life.” – John Lennon
“What do you want to be when you grow up?” It’s probably the most pointless and thoughtless question an adult can ask a child.
Here’s why. Firstly, kids live gloriously in the present. It’s a lesson us big kids could seriously learn from them. They have no concept of the future or what it means to ‘grow up’. They’re too busy playing, creating and living in the moment to think about some imagined tomorrow.
Secondly, they have no context of what it’s possible to ‘be’, outside of what they see at home or in books. No 6-year-old is ever going to say, “I want to be a nuclear physicist, own a billion-dollar Silicon Valley tech company or be a journalist writing about feminism.” Although seriously, I’d adopt any kid who declared they wanted to be a journalist for equality!
The most likely response to this question, if it’s not fireman (sorry ‘fireperson’), nurse or teacher, is “I don’t know.” Three little words to destroy any kid’s confidence and curiosity. So, stop it!
Ask different questions.
Kids, here’s a brilliant response if you ever get asked this stupid question by an adult. “When I grow up, I want to be just like I am now. Whimsical. Playful. Joyful. Kind. Creative. Healthy. Loving. Now go figure out what you want to be instead and stop asking me stupid questions!”
Here are some different questions to ask our kids…
If you could spend all day today doing anything you wanted, what would it be?
What makes you forget the time?
What makes you happy when you do it?
What do you think you are good at?
What do you think we should all do to create a kinder, better world?
What do you think you could do to help?
Of course, these questions are not just for the young. They’re for the young at heart, no matter your age.
Doing work we did not really choose.
According to the latest global Gallup Poll research, 87% of the world’s workers are either disengaged or actively disengaged at work. They’re doing work they ‘fell into’ and even hate, to pay the bills. It’s ironic we refer to our jobs as a way to ‘make a living’ when most of us are actually ‘making a dying’ – every single day.
I vaguely recall answering ‘teacher’ when I was asked the stupid question as a kid. It was likely because I loved my teachers, so perhaps I just wanted to be like them. On leaving school however, I became a banker. Jobs were easy to come by in those days and I just fell into it. I had no particular flair for finance but it was a prestigious job and it paid well. Hindsight is a valuable thing. I can see clearly now that banking chose me, I didn’t choose it.
In the year 2000, after 20 years in banking, I became one of the 87%. I was burnt-out, disengaged and stuck. The last five years of my career had been spent in marketing roles, so I quit to start my own marketing consultancy. It wasn’t because I had any particular passion for marketing but because I was relatively good at it and could be paid well for it. In 2010, after a fair degree of success, I realised my values and beliefs were no longer aligned with the business I’d created, so I closed it and went to live in France for six months with my 12-year-old son Billy.
Beginning the search for meaning.
It was there that I first truly began my search for a purpose-driven livelihood. In the last ten years, I’ve been fulfilling my purpose as a professional writer and teacher. I’ve been making a living from what I’m good at, what I love and what the world needs. I’ve come full circle. I’ve found my calling.
If there’s one thing the world needs right now, it’s millions of people pursuing purpose-driven work. Purpose is all about accomplishing something that is meaningful to the self and consequential for the world beyond the self. It’s your ‘you-first, earth-first and human-first’ reason for being.
My sense is that we need to fast-track a sense of purpose in our young people particularly, that it’s never been more important or urgent. We simply can’t let them wait like we have, to retire, win lotto, the kids have left home or the leaders of their company (and country) decide that ‘purpose’ is on the agenda.
Perhaps if I’d been asked some different questions when I was young, I might have discovered my purpose much earlier? Or if I’d had a purpose mentor at pivotal moments in my life – at the end of school, when I left banking, when I closed my marketing business, it might not have taken me so long.
It’s never too late to pursue your purpose. And you don’t need to quit your job to get started. You can start now, no matter where you work or what your life circumstances.
As always, if I can be of service reach out. I’m here. I care.