“What do you want to be when you grow up?” An Unanswerable Question

My niece, Lily, a highly-capable and thriving 3rd grade student, recently received a writing assignment.  She was to write about what she wanted to be when she got older.  Conflicted and stressed, she had little response to this question.  Taking a risk, and defying the assignment, she wrote the following essay:  
My Top Ten Reasons I Have a Hard Time with Goal Setting

#10​I don’t feel like I use goals to help me. I just know what I like and I focus on doing that. I can feel what I want to do in my gut when the time comes. Right now I like doing plays at Green River and Acting. I like to dance and play piano. I just want to keep doing what I like and not worry about what I’ll be when I grow up. That stresses me out.

#9​The word goal feels too complicated to me. I like to focus on one thing I’m doing at that moment and get it done or close to done. Not just writing a bunch of things to try to accomplish.

#8​Dreams don’t feel realistic to me. Dreams just seem so big and may be hard to complete without your trusty fairy god weasel.

#7​I have a tremendously hard time making choices. How am I supposed to decide where I’m supposed to visit or what I want to be when I grow up when I can hardly pick out a Kind Bar at the grocery store? Seriously! My brother picks out the first bar he sees, except for the coffee one. My mom either picks out caramel or chocolate. I pick out one Kind Bar, then I put it back. Then I grab a different flavor and I put it back. Then I grab another one and put it in the cart. When we are halfway down an isle I take the bar out of the cart and run down the aisle and switch the Kind Bar. Where is a fairy god weasel when you need one?

#6 ​I have everything I need and most of the things I want. I want to be able to keep acting. I want to have deodorant so my armpits don’t stink…and I’m serious about that. I want kids to have loving homes and animals to have caring families. But most of all I want global warming to stop. I don’t like saying that’s a goal because I don’t know if I can change it myself.

#5​Ok, I only like goal setting a little if it’s small, silly and fun. This past year when we went to Great Wolf Lodge I made it a goal to go on the Howling Tornado 10 or more times. Guess what? I crushed my goal by going 21 times instead.

#4​I have a supportive family. When I want to try something I talk to them about it first and we figure out a way to do it. I may have to cut out other things from my life like missing birthday parties, stopping swimming or not going to laser tag on my cousin’s birthday. They help support me and figure out a way to do it.

#3​My job may not exist today. The world is always changing because of our ingenious technology. The jobs there are today may be gone tomorrow. So never chose a job until you’re in your 20s.

#2​Global warming. I don’t know but by the time we’re adults we may be suffering from global warming. And actually, my goal just might be to have water, stay cool, and have a fairy god weasel.  

#1​I don’t want to write a list of things to do while I’m a kid because I know most everything will change when I go through puberty. I don’t know if I want to be married and have a huge family. I might want one kid, but all I know is I really want a dog. Never mind, I guess I will get married. I’m going to need somebody to clean up all of that doggie doo-doo.  

I adore Lily’s risk-taking.  My sister and myself, both highly capable students growing up, were forced into determining a career field early on in our lives.  This wasn’t forced on us by our parents, but rather the continuous question by others.  This created a sense of paralysis where we were scared to change direction for fear of failure to those we had told or committed to.  

Now with kids of my own, I have been thinking of  different questions I may ask such as:

“What is a problem you may want to investigate?”

“What profession have you heard about that you are curious to investigate?”

“If you could create a new invention, what would it be?”

“What are the components of a good leader?”

Lily will surely be successful.  Able and willing to follow her own desires and debunk the status-quo, she leads with her heart, her ideas and courage.  I admire her.  A rule-follower my whole life, I am challenged to take such risks.  Though we share creativity, I look to Lily for continued inspiration and to remind me that being a kid is to be cherished rather than rushed.  


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