Day 12… er 13: When I grow up

Yesterday I woke up thinking about destiny. Interest measures are all the rage these days. Some kids are clear on what they want to be when they grow up. Others, not so much. So the schools run students through series of questionnaires, asking things like, “Would you rather play hide-n-go-seek or read a book?” over and over again, ten ways to Sunday, until (somewhat mysteriously) out pops a list of professions, careers, hobbies, etc…

Interest tests are not so new. I did one as a teenager and my results pointed to all sorts of interesting things: engineer, military officer, lawyer, public administrator, IRS agent (must have been a US test). I landed squarely in the ‘realist’ bucket – prefers to work with things, rather than people. I also apparently had a relatively low interest in writing.  So after some debate, off I went into mechanical engineering. I not only liked working with things, but also things that move (planes, trains and automobiles, construction equipment).

But while I was in engineering, I spent a lot of time on the flagball field and broomball rink, became a sports rep, joined some committees and did a minor in management. I kind of liked hanging out with people AND things. And then I joined an IT department, where I worked in technical support. More people and more things. I went into management, where I was able to solve problems about things, with people. Then took up coaching, working with things (soccer balls, ringuette rings) and players. Teaching seemed interesting. Lots of people, less things. And research, lots of things. Some people.

So I have been periodically confused and often look at my husband over coffee, wondering, “What should I be when I grow up?” I frequently review my list of ideal professions, wondering if I answered the questions incorrectly or if I was trying to trick the test. I have done both the paper and online versions of “What color is your parachute?” I have snooped through university programs playing the What-if game. I have toyed with the idea of becoming the US Secretary of State (probably because I’m watching Madame Secretary).

But yesterday, it dawned on me (maybe it took me a while to grow up) that who we are and what we want to be have less to with ourselves than with others. Watch a child squirm when an adult asks “What do you want to be when you grow up?” Children come up with all sorts of answers but do any of us honestly think that a child knows much about any profession at all?  What a child has is a desire to ‘do’ – not ‘be.’ They live in the present. They do stuff. They play with things, with people, games, read, write, watch tv, go on the computer. They do stuff.

And so do we. All of us. All day. We do stuff.  There might be a label to what we do, or not. But while we are doing, the label has no bearing. We do the things we like, and sometimes the things we don’t like. And if the latter outweighs the former, we think, “I want to do something else.”

What do I want to do? Tell stories, solve problems, help others. How? Working on it.

Published by Gwyneth Edwards

Academic and practitioner in the field of strategic management.