The Question We Need to Stop Asking

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

This question is one we’ve all been hearing since we were three years old.  It’s something people are always asking, and is the basis of almost every icebreaker game I’ve had the misfortune of playing in my 19 years on Earth.

As children, we’re fascinated with the lure of a future career. We play dress up pretending to be doctors, teachers, firefighters, princesses, even cops and robbers. As college students, we’re constantly panicking about the job market and picking a career isn’t as easy as saying, “I want to be a fairy princess!”-- it takes a lot of work to find the right career. I hear that you can only become a fairy princess if you are in the top 1% of your class. There goes my big dream.

I’ve felt pressure to figure out my future plan since I was in middle school.  Eighth grade is when teachers first started talking to us about college. Every school year afterwards, everything was “college applications” this and “future career goals” that.  When I actually made it to college, suddenly I was being bombarded left and right with the same questions over and over from relatives, friends, and academic advisors: “What are you majoring in?/What do you want to do after college?”

The thing is, people change jobs and careers a lot during their lives.  No one is tied down to a single career, and no one needs to know what to do with their lives right away.  We need time to go out in the world and figure that out for ourselves. Unfortunately, everything in the world is all about efficiency and making snap decisions.  Most people don’t care for well thought out decisions and pondering all of the options.  They pick the easiest or most “logical” option and go for it.

My first semester of college, I was focusing more on figuring out my future career so I would know what to major in instead of vice versa.  I wanted to pick a major that would lead me directly to a specific job field after college—like a teaching degree for example—so I wouldn’t have to worry about picking a career.  My major would pick the job for me.

My backwards mindset about careers and majors was not as helpful as I thought it would be and instead caused me more stress than it was worth.  I kept changing my mind about different majors and couldn’t quite pick just one, because I didn’t want to feel tied down to a specific career yet.

Instead of feeling pressure to pick a major based on a future career that seems logical, I chose to instead pick a major about something I’m genuinely interested in—and I chose Creative Writing.  I know that choosing this major will make my college years much more fun and interesting than if I had chosen a major based on a career I know for a fact I wouldn’t like.  My dream job is to be an author and write books for middle school aged kids.  I also wouldn’t mind working at a publishing company or being an editor.  But honestly, I have no idea where I’ll end up or where my life will take me.  Whether my career after college is world-famous author or Starbucks barista until I can get on my feet, at least I’ll know I spent my college years studying something I enjoy.

[Photos courtesy of BruceSallan.com, the Whisper App, and BuzzFeed.com]