This question is outdated, and we shouldn’t be asking it anymore:

“What do you want to be when you grow up?”

There are a number of reasons I say this.

Reason 1: You’ll change jobs. Lots

Firstly, it assumes that a person will do one thing for their entire adult life. That they will pick a career or job and stick to it until their retire. And this was the case with people currently at the end of their career

However, sticking to one job or career for young adults is highly unlikely. There are many factors that can cause you to want to change jobs, from boredom to being able to train yourself with new skills. And there are many factors that can cause you to have to change job, such as automation, artificial intelligence or shifts in the job market

Reason 2: New jobs will come in to existence

Secondly, the question assumes that people have all the information now about careers that exist in the future. But the job market is evolving constantly due to things like technological advancement.

My flatmate currently works as the leader of a technical team at a computer network management company. This job would have barely existed in 1992 when we were born. His girlfriend is a multimedia journalist in charge of digital strategy and social media.

Being a social media manager as part of your job? This wouldn’t have existed even 10 years ago

Reason 3: Access to the world

Thirty years ago, your main access to the world outside your immediate community was limited. But nowadays, we can have a conversation with virtually anyone in the world. And we can connect to almost any job conceivable.

I’m currently doing a project for a UK based consulting company. My friend who does digital design has done work for Nigerian companies.

Your choice of job is no longer limited to what is immediately around you.

What should we ask people instead?

The problem with the standard question of “what do you want to be” is that it is convergent. It asks us to take the information we have at hand now and make a decision based on it.

That’s why 5 and 6 year olds might say “policeman” or “singer” when prompted, because that’s the only career information they have available to them.

Instead, we should ask divergent questions about what a person wants to be. Where the answers could result in a variety of different careers. Some examples that come to mind are:

  • What problems do you want to solve?
  • What do you love doing?
  • What type of people do you want to work with?
  • What type of lifestyle would you like to live?

Any of the answers to these questions could lead to vastly different careers. For example, if the person wants to help people who are sick, they could potentially be a doctor, a health economist, a hospital manager, a pharmacist, a nurse, an executive at a pharmaceutical company, an ambulance driver, a politician or even a lawyer.

So when thinking about our careers and those of young people in general, don’t start with asking about a specific career. Ask about goals, passions, interests, core values.

And help them find a path that gets them there. There will certainly be more than one. 


Image was taken in my first week of university, in 2011, when we accidentally walked to the block house.

Blog: 327/365. Click here to read about my #365of25 journey
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