What do you want to be when you grow up?

Living in the developed world is a bit bizarre.  

I live in a country where it would be very difficult for me to starve to death. If I lost everything I own and all my friends and family abandoned me, I could still probably survive off the scraps of my countrymen. I could probably find enough abandoned/discarded food to keep me going. Not comfortable, for sure, but possible.

 

Even though the threat of starvation has been removed, we still fear for our survival. It's part of our nature - we're designed to keep an eye out for anything that might harm us, especially things we can more or less control, like having enough food to eat and somewhere to sleep.

 

In the modern world, this survival conversation mostly comes up in the form of the question, "How am I going to pay my bills?". Stated another way, "How am I going to make money?". This is an important question, it is the engine for one of our most dominant cultural conversations - the conversation called: "What do you want to be when you grow up?".

 

Notice, if you will, that "be a good mother" is not an acceptable answer. This is actually a much narrower question than the language suggests. What we're really asking is, "What kind of job do you want to have when you grow up? How are you going to make money?".

 

There's nothing wrong with this question. We all gotta eat, and aside from taking on a monastic way of life and living off the kindness of strangers (always an option), that means we need to make money.

 

The problem is not that we ask our kids, "How are you going to make money when you grow up?". The problem is that we pretend like that's they same thing as asking them, "What do you want to be when you grow up?". These are both very important questions.

 

Stated another way, you could say the two questions are:

 

1) How are you going to eat? How are you going to create value that you can trade in the market place, so that you can acquire your material needs?

 

2) What do you want to be? How are you going to create value that's an expression of who you uniquely are in the universe? How are you going to make an impact?

 

I think it's a huge mistake to collapse these two questions. They need to be distinct.

 

Mostly it seems that we become so overwhelmed with the first question that we totally ignore the second one. There is not, after all, an ancient part of our brain that screams at us everyday "Are you doing work that matters to you?".

 

What if we addressed these two questions directly with our children? What if we explained to them from a very young age that there are two kinds of work: one - the kind that pays your bills, and two - the kind that makes you come alive?

 

What if we made it clear to them that they are both very important and that ignoring either one will lead to suffering.

 

What if our schools had two goals: one - teach every child a marketable skill, and two - help every child discover what kind of impact they want to make on the world (and then teach them the skills they need to do that work).

 

What would our world look like if every 18 year old graduating from high school had a marketable skill to pay their bills and clarity on what they wanted to contribute to the world?

 

I don't know, but I bet it would be awesome. I want to live in that world.