Think back to when you were just a wee little boy or girl. Do you remember the question people used to ask all of the time? "What do you want to be when you grow up?" I was thinking about that question today and realized that on so many levels, it is totally unfair!
First, how in the world do we expect such a young little one to have any idea what he or she may do for a living when they grow up? Heck, most people I know, regardless of age, still have things they want to do and try in their lifetime. Lots of unfinished business, dreams, hopes, and goals floating around regardless of age.
Second, at what point are we "grown up?" Is it at 18 years old when we graduate from high school and can vote, but can't yet be trusted to legally drink alcoholic beverages? If a young man or woman is undecided on his or her major in college, most people think he or she is misguided, not focused, and indecisive. Yet again, how many adults (a/k/a "grown ups") do you know that are using the exact major they studied in their present job/career?
Third, let's break down the actual question: What do you want to BE when you grow up? A wise guy or girl can answer that he or she wants to be happy, healthy, wise, in love, gainfully employed, successful or any other adjective of his or her choosing. Or maybe you realize that you will be many things at the same time. One title may not define you. You may be many things like a daughter or son, spouse, friend, employee, entrepreneur, etc.
So what if here you are, a grown up, and you still aren't sure what you want to be? Not only do I think that's okay, I think it's way more common than most people realize. And now it is socially acceptable too. We don't have to make our first career our last. We don't have to define ourselves by one title. Change is often inevitable, regardless of how old we are and what we have done in the past. We all go through periods in our life when we ask "What's next?" Maybe you've been in the same career for years and are ready for a change. Maybe you want to take a giant leap and go into business for yourself. Maybe you want to take a sort of "sabbatical" and re-think things. These periods of uncertainty when we go back to that childhood question can be scary - but hopefully also exciting!
Research shows that for many generations, people were expected to find a job/career and stick with it their whole working life. The workplace and retirement systems were set up that way and job stability was the great motivator to stay the course. This generation is made up of job-hoppers who will stay on average only 3-4 years in any one position. This generation, known as the Millennials, consider themselves "free agents" and will subject themselves to the possibility of financial insecurity in order to find happiness and fulfillment in their work lives. They feel that it is a small price to pay for freedom.
I have an insider's and outsider's perspective on this issue. I completed my own successful (and risky!) career transition from a lawyer to a coach/consultant/speaker/author 12 years ago on the heels of the 9-11 terrorist attacks (and thank my lucky starts every day that I get to do this for a living now!). The tragic events of that day served a catalyst for me to do a lot of soul searching on what the next path was for me and make the leap from my career as a lawyer. Of course, it was scary. The change looked like a big mountain looming before me. It's amazing how scary those mountains look before you climb them. And now that I'm sitting on the other side of the mountain, I can look back and see how beautiful the mountain really is and how great the other side looks.
I have also had the privilege of coaching many clients through career transitions over the years. I think people go through "chapters" in their life, and their careers change - if they have the courage to follow through. It's not always easy to turn the page when one chapter has ended and it is time to move on. But what I have seen as an outsider and experienced as an insider is true magic. Corny but true. Pretty much everyone I know, including myself, that has made a career change has come out on the other side better for it. Happier, more fulfilled, and grateful that they made the leap and took the chance regardless of outcome. Let's face it... it's usually the things we don't do that bring us the biggest regret.
So if you still don't know what you want to be when you grow up, don't fret. It ain't over just yet. I hope you have the courage to scale your mountain!