I always hated this question.
As a kid I answered it with shrugs, silence or imitation. “Uhhh…. teacher!” There was only one time when I could answer it with certainty: When in grad school. It was a one way road. Why get a Ph.D? To become a professor. Before my late 20s, then, I found this question some where between stressful and irrelevant.
As a parent, I hate it even more!
We were at a children’s festival a few weeks ago and there was a tent sponsored by a bank. Kids were encouraged to enter the tent to learn about saving and to have their picture taken dressed up as “what they want to be when they grow up.” We skipped that tent.
I didn’t want to stand there while my 8 year old and four year old tried to decide if they wanted to be a doctor, ballerina or astronaut WHEN THEY GROW UP. I don’t want them to focus on being a grown up. I want them to enjoy being a kid!
Aside from the way it rushes kids to think toward the future. The question of what you want to be when you grow up also bugs me because it lends toward gender normativity. What do you think most four year old girls pick when choosing between pink tutus and green scrubs? It’s not little kids only. For a recent class project girls in Big Girl’s Second Grade class said Business Worker, Teacher, Writer and Artist, boys in the class said Business Owner, Principal, NFL player, Doctor and Architect. Want to look up the average incomes and gender distribution for those incomes? Power differentials too? The gender wage gap is based, in part, on an expectation gap that starts when kids are really young.
The question also is a product of the project of training kids to be employees and consumers. I don’t want my kids goal to be to make money or to work for some company. It was a bank asking those kids, you know?
Getting older younger, gender normativity, and consumerism are three totally legitimate reasons to object to something, right?
But, recently it’s been bugging me even more… because for me, in my current state of contented unemployment, the answer is yet again elusive. I don’t know what I want to do with myself for employment. But what I do and who I am are not the same thing.
So, I’ve been coaching my kids and myself. When asked, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” I urge them (and me) to say, “Myself!”