The Worst Question to Ask a Child
I was utterly speechless and completely unprepared.
Frantically looking around for another classmate to save me, I was met with blank, unhelpful stares. Buttheads I thought as I admitted defeat and cleared my throat.
“I’m sorry…could you repeat the question?” I asked timidly.
My teacher rolled her eyes, gave an exasperated sigh, and once again asked:
“What do you want to be when you grow up?”
I had absolutely no idea.
How could I be bothered to face such an existential question (that would end up plaguing me for the rest of my life) when I had better things to do, like staring out the window while doodling superheroes all over my wide ruled notebook?
And to top it all off? I was only in third grade.
Unfortunately, I’m not the only one who has come head-to-head with this terrifying question — kids all over the world are being asked it every day and it’s only getting worse.
I’ve always wondered why grownups feel so compelled to ask a bunch of clueless children something so complicated at such a young age. It’s obvious most grown-ups mean well, but what seems like a harmless question can lead to a lifetime of stress, anxiety, and expensive therapy.¹
And even after all this pressure, you’re not guaranteed an answer.
Hell, I’m a thirty-four-year-old who freelanced for almost a decade and I’ve been full-time consulting for just about five years now and I still have no idea how to answer it.
And you know what?
I’m OK with that.
After all, I’m at a relatively stable point in my career, I work with some of the smartest people I know, and I have a level of work-life balance I never thought you could find with a full-time job.
This doesn’t mean I still don’t think about this damn question all of the time. Like many millennials, I struggle to sum up what I do into a few words that fit neatly in a Twitter bio or at the top of my LinkedIn profile.