Monday, May 3, 2010

What Do You Want to be When you Grow Up?

I'm sure everyone reading this blog was asked this question repeatedly throughout their childhood. Your answers to this also probably changed as you grew older and your interests changed. Some folks might still be trying to answer this question even beyond university and their first job. This post tries to shed some light on how one can go about finding what they want to do when they are growing up.

Trying out new things

I remember as a young boy, I was fascinated by planes. Naturally, whenever I got asked what I wanted to become, I would answer a 'pilot'. Then one day I was fortunate enough to be able to go see a cockpit of a plane (yes, this is before 9/11 and double reinforced doors). My initial reaction after looking at all the switches and lights was 'wow,' so cool. Soon, this changed to 'oh my god' as I was explained that one needed to learn how to use each and every switch before you got to fly. The aim of becoming a 'pilot' quickly went away.

The point of this story is that as you pass through more experiences the clearer your direction becomes. The example above was a simplistic one, but 'experiences' can be varied and not necessarily through employment. They can involve volunteering, athletics/sports, part-time work, boy scouts etc etc. It is also important to be open to trying out new things and keep your mind open, otherwise you will never know what you missed out on. These 'experiences' allows us to discover both what we like/don't like and our strengths/weaknesses. Do you like to work with and talk to people? Are you detail oriented? Are you a problem solver? The list goes one. Through this iterative trial and error process you may be able to arrive at your answer to 'what do you want to be when you grow up?'

Keep Talking

The trial and error process is a long term plan and takes time to take shape. To speed things up, you need to talk to a lot of people, even if you don't like to. Most people are more than willing to share their story, you just have to ask. If you don't know a lot of people you can start with your family members, siblings, parents, uncles, aunts and then ask them to refer you to others in your area of your interest. You can even request them to let you shadow them at work for a day to learn what its like. In return for their time and patience be extra willing to help them out with anything such as running errands, making a website, teaching them how to use a feature on their mobile phone etc.

The process of figuring out what you want to do in life can be daunting and confusing, but by following some of the suggestions above as well as starting early you may be able to make it an easier and fun process. Do you have stories of how you found out what you wanted to become? What other strategies have worked for you? Please share your thoughts.

Cross listed here.


  1. That's a very hard question. My answer 15 years ago would've been, a musician. I now fish for antivirals for a living, and still not yet certain on the answer to the question.

  2. I had been preparing myself to work in the industry (R&D), but after a couple of job interviews I got the feeling that I wasn't ready. Or didn't find it that interesting anymore. So, decided to pursue a PhD.

  3. I think it’s important to keep an open mind when we think of the future however, I think that when we are young we tend to hold on to specific professions because not having a "clear" picture can create some anxiety when growing up.

    People have the tendencies to ask "what are you going to be when you grow up?" that question alone is enough to make you think that you should know what you want to do and where you want to be in 5 to 10 years.

    My suggestion is to explore what your interests are and to see where your strengths are. Don’t dismiss your interest based on the amount that you will make because I believe that if you have a passion for it then you will excel and the rest will come

    I have completed an undergraduate degree and still have anxiety on what I will become instead of appreciating the endless possibilities I have. For this reason I am now pursuing my interest and feel a lot better about the process and less worried about what I will be come.

  4. Thanks for the comments.

    I feel that everyone needs to be continually learning and evolving in order to stay abreast with the changes around us.

    Very valid points about pursuing your passions.

  5. It is a good post Taha.
    As for my life goes on; this question had a different answers in my initial years as things that fascinated me used to change now and then but it stabilized when I was dead sure in pursuing engineering as that was what I loved and I was passionate about, so my graduation years became less stressful as I always wanted to explore this side of world and all the subjects taught became my friends along the exploration.
    But this question doesn’t stop there and then, it will always bounce back when u don’t feel happy with things and situations around and that’s the time one need to listen to inner voice and decide on what one really want to become and what is your real passion. To conclude one can be happy only when one is passionate about that thing, person, work, hobby or the people around.