Who do you want to be?

The memory of the first time that I was asked, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” is vague. I know that I was very young. But the impact of that question, as well as my experiences for several years following, have had a profound effect on what I considered was my purpose…and ultimately my ability to experience happiness.

For the last few weeks, we’ve been wrapped up in the pandemic and hearing stories of people and organizations whose health and livelihood has been turned upside down.  

A lot of people—who, so far, have not had their health or the health of their loved ones affected—are facing a loss of work, a change in their work, a loss of income, or all of the above.  Any of these things alone can create a lot of anxiety and stress. However, I’m also worried about a perceived loss of purpose that many of those people are also dealing with.  I would argue that is the worst part.

Why?

Knowing pain is necessary to experiencing joy.  But when our joy and happiness are dependent upon what we do, then we are never fully in control of who we are and we are less likely to be resilient.  In other words, whether it’s a pandemic or other life event, our ability to rebound from difficult times is significantly impacted by the strength of our purpose.

I don’t have an immediate solution for everyone dealing with hardship today. However, I do have ideas about what we can do to make it less likely that anyone in the future would rely on their livelihood for their purpose…or happiness.

Let me explain.

Beginning at a very early age, children are asked what they want to be when they grow up.  They are bombarded with “show and tell” and story books that show how glamorous it is to be a doctor, firefighter, police officer, and so on. They (children) are seldom asked “who” they want to be. And for the most part, we (parents, teachers, basically all adults) don’t explicitly help them learn gratitude, forgiveness, empathy, happiness and purpose.

Here are a few simple things we all can do:

Stop—

asking young people what they want to be when they grow up (or at least burry it further into the conversation)

allowing our biases (including the implicit ones) to affect the messages we give young people about their aspirations 

Start—

asking young people what they like to do

helping young people learn to find something to look forward to every day

helping young people learn how to articulate something that they like about themselves

Of course, we want all young people to develop the skills needed to be productive and able to provide for themselves and their family. But we can’t let “what” they decide to do dictate “who” they are—at least not if we want them to be resilient and experience joy in life.

The stops and starts above may sound  touchy-feely or free spirited. But if we adults are not nurturing the ability to dream, to be positive and to live with purpose, who will?

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