Tommy enthusiastically jumped up and shouted, "A Fireman!" "What about you, Katie? What do you want to be?" With a quiet confidence, Katie replied, "A Doctor." "And, you... Bonnie?"
Oh, no. This question again? Hurry up... think of an answer! What's wrong with me? It's an easy question and you've answered it before... she's waiting for a response, time is running out. Just make something up already.
"A Lawyer," I finally replied.
I really didn't know the answer to the question but knew that this was a good response and wouldn't raise eyebrows. By the time I graduated from high school, I figured out that I didn't want to become a lawyer. However, I still didn't know what I wanted to be when I grew up...
After graduating from college and entering the world of work, this question takes on a new form... "What are your career goals?" "Where do you see yourself in 5 years? What about 10?" These are surely questions that get asked in almost every interview... and, then sometimes by managers or Executives taking an interest in an employee's career development.
This question continued to baffle me as I moved into adulthood and into working world. And, as I learned as a child, I was expected to answer this question since not having an answer would be cause for concern in an interview, at work, in social circles, etc... So, my new de facto answer became: "I want to move up, become a manager and eventually an Executive."
But, the truth was, I had no idea what this meant; and, the expectation of having a good response to this question vs. really believing that these were my career goals became more muddled as the years passed.
Sitting in a <top executive's> office overlooking the SF Bay on a beautiful spring day, I came well prepared with slide decks, spreadsheets and data to provide an update on my business. But, I wasn't prepared for, "So, tell me.... what do you want to be when you grow up?"
Oh, crap! Totally caught off guard... what is wrong with you? Why is it so hard for you to answer this question? He's waiting for a response... just say something!
I finally stuttered, " I don't know what I want to be when I grow up. But, I know what I don't want to be."
While I was slightly uncomfortable with delivering such a vague response, I felt a big weight lifted off my shoulders. It was the truth: I don't know... what opportunities may come up in the next 3, 5 or 10 years; what new rules, speed bumps or turns lie in the road ahead; and, what I will be motivated by and passionate about down that road.
What I do know is that I discover and find missions in the World of Work that I am passionate about. In the process of accomplishing and succeeding in these missions, I win, I lose, I learn, I get better at the things that I do and I develop new skills everyday. Ultimately, it is this process and not knowing what I want to be when I grow up that got me to where I am today.
Final Answer: "I don't know. I'm still growing up. What about you?" ;-)