The Myth of Knowing What You Want to be When You Grow Up

Are you stressed out because you haven’t figured out what you’re going to do with your life? It’s an overwhelming and unfair question to ask ourselves. It’s the wrong question – it assumes that life is so predictable and linear that it’s possible and even expected at a young age to know exactly how you’re going to spend your 80-yr sojourn on earth. Let’s throw out the question and replace it with something like “what should the next step in your life be?” It’s much easier and less overwhelming to know what the next step is as opposed to trying to predict what you’re going to be doing for the rest of your life.

Life is a series of developmental phases and as you grow, your perspective and preferences change. Even if you thought you might want to be a race-car driver at age 18, when you’re 30, you probably won’t care about that as much. If you thought you’d work for a cool company for 30 years and then retire, you might get 10 yrs into it and then decide that you want to be a river rafting guide on the Amazon.

Why are we so tempted to try to figure it all out up front? It’s probably due to a variety of reasons – most of which relate to how we think we’ll be perceived by those around us. If you have moments of confusion you might be perceived as weak or indecisive. If you try something and it’s not the right thing, you might appear like a failure. You might be afraid of the pure uncertainty of not having your calling in life nailed up-front. These are all symptoms and manifestations of not living according to your own inner voice.

Recently I came across this well-circulated quote by the late Steve Jobs:

“Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma – which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.”

It’s difficult to tune out the noise of the world and listen to your inner voice. It takes retrospection and courage. It takes awareness and determination. It takes a desire to doggedly seek and discover your next step. I recently saw a documentary about Andrea Wenner who graduated with a Masters in Business Administration (MBA) from a very prestigious university. She had many lucrative offers to go into banking or consulting like most newly-minted MBA’s, but her inner voice was telling her something different.

She was in New York and noticed one day that the kids at one of the inner-city schools were playing on a blank slab of blacktop with no playground. She was inspired to do something about it and made a goal to create and install something like 100 playgrounds. Everyone told her she was crazy and that the New York City bureaucracy would eat her alive. Why don’t you just go to work for a Wall Street bank like every other Ivy League MBA?

She decided to follow the “next step” in her life as was dictated by her heart and she formed a non-profit group called Out 2 Play to achieve her goal. There were many challenges but through her persistence and vision, she was able to complete her target number of playgrounds and she profoundly impacted thousands of kids, teachers, and parents.

Don’t worry so much about what’s around the corner, if you have the courage to seek out and follow your heart for just the current and next step of your journey, you might find that you have more peace and enjoy life a bit more.

John Boyd

John Boyd is the author of The Illustrated Guide to Selling You. He’s a frequent speaker and coach on the subjects of life purpose, job search, goal achievement, positive psychology, well-being, communication, and healthy relationships.  His book is endorsed by Steven Covey, Brian Tracy, and Denis Waitley, and can be found at Amazon.com as well as in Barnes and Noble stores nationwide.”  Learn more about John at www.mjohnboyd.com.  He’d love to hear from you at john@dyalogic.com.