I was recently interviewed for a newsletter of sorts and I was asked questions like '...what's the one word you would use to describe yourself?' and '...what did you want to be when you grew up?'
I'm not sure if I answered those questions as honestly as I thought I would but for what it's worth my answers were Passionateand Batman. I mean, what kid doesn't want to be Batman when they grew up? I still want to be Batman and I'm a grown-up now.
And therein lies the problem. I just classified myself as a grown-up. I pay taxes. I have a mortgage. I carry around too much weight in my middle and I've got more grey hairs than I can count. Hooray for adulthood! See the problem here is that I still don't really know what I want to be when I grow up because I don't actually consider myself to be 'grown-up'. Yes I have a job. I'd go so far as to even say I have a career but trying to pigeon hole myself into one role; one defining characteristic....I don't think I can do that.
Granted, when asked I fired off my answer without a terrible amount of thought. I wasn't trying to be flippant. I just was caught slightly off guard by the question and provided the first answer that really jumped out at me. It was the answer I've been using since I was about 6 so there's some history there but regardless of that fact, I probably could've mapped out my response a little better.
Stewart Butterfield, the co-founder of Flickr and chief executive of Slack uses that very same question when he's interviewing candidates. According to an interview with the New York Times earlier this month Butterfield was quoted as saying
But I have to disagree with Mr. Butterfield. The question is WHAT do you want to be when you grow up? That should naturally lead into WHY? In my opinion a short answer means that your answer is definitive and clearly thought out. Let me show you.
You: What do you want to be when you grow up?
You: Why do you want to be Batman?
Fights Crime and Saves People
Short, sweet and to the point. Next Question.
Telling people that having a short answer to a question like that is 'automatically bad' is essentially telling people their answer.....is wrong. And that in itself.....is wrong.
You see, the thing that irks me is that most of us truly don't ever get to be what we want to be. We make choices that eventually lead us down the path we're on today but it's rare to know more than a handful of people that are doing exactly what they set out to become.
I've always envied those people that knew as early as Public School what they wanted to be when they got older. They kept that idea alive all throughout High School, took courses in College or University geared to that profession and then when they graduated plunged head first into the job market and relentlessly sought out and acquired their job. Destiny fulfilled! Achievement Unlocked! Way to make the rest of us look bad.
I shouldn't really complain though. I love what I do. I didn't set out to be a Training and Quality Manager in a B2B Marketing Company. In High School I earned scholarships to study Music and go to a Dramatic Arts School in New York. I passed on both. Instead, I went to University to study Egyptology. Yes....you read that correctly and yes I could tell you why I did that but that's neither here nor there at this stage of the game.
The point is I found what I'm passionate about; teaching, educating and motivating people. It took me 30+ years to find this passion, but I found it. It's what I see myself doing for the rest of my life. It doesn't mean I won't change directions at some point. I have a restless soul and as Robert Frost once said
The woods are lovely, dark and deep, But I have promises to keep, And miles to go before I sleep, And miles to go before I sleep.
I realize that I may never be Batman. Not exactly, but I still get to be likeBatman. I get to help people every day. I can be their protector, their mentor and their sparring partner when the time calls for it. I get to use my brains and my brawn to get end results. I solve problems and mysteries. I drive my Bat mobile a little too fast at times and I look good in black. I may never be the Superhero type, but I feel like one almost every time I leave the office.
So for any of you reading this that feel lost, confused or awash in a sea of ambiguity about where your career is going I'll leave you with this. Most of us start off wanting to be Cowboys, Astronauts, Princess and Superheroes and the majority of us will never be those things. Later in life we want to be Professional Athletes, Recording Artists and Movie Stars and only some of us will fulfill that wish. Eventually we will come to a point where the only thing we want to be when we grow up....is happy. Whether that's pushing paper, pushing a broom or pushing a stroller it doesn't matter because when that moment comes, you'll know you're right where you're supposed to be.