Who Do You Want To Be?

A colleague of mine was worried about her daughter. My friend said her daughter is bright, sweet and talented, but she doesn’t know what she wants to be when she grows up.

“She’s only 12,” I said. “What’s the rush?”

I should have responded differently.

When we ask kids what they want to be when they grow up, we are usually referring to a career path. We are asking them what they want to do for a living, not what they want to be.

I should have said, “When she grows up, let’s hope she will be warm, perceptive and caring. Let’s hope she has sound values and solid judgment.”

From a 12-year-old, I don’t really need to hear, “I want to be a psychiatrist.” Or “a journalist.” Or “a lawyer.” Or even “President of Company XYZ.”

Just once I would like to hear, “I want to be nice.” ”I want to be understanding.” “I want to be strong.” “I want to be articulate.” “I will be generous.” “I will be a good friend.”

Sometimes I want assurance that, as the shapers of the next generation, we can separate how our kids will make a living from the kinds of people they will be.  

Ultimately their personal qualities will affect how they perform in their chosen careers. Their personal strengths will help them handle the events of the workday and will enable them to perceive, process and master the nuances of whatever job they do.

Their values will influence how they look, feel, behave and think; what they do to and for others; and how they react in times of glory and in times of hopelessness.

What do we want our children to be when they grow up? Caring. Warm. Kind. Sensitive. Genuine. Resilient.

We should tell our children: Be all or even most of these things. Then, in fact, you will be a better psychiatrist.You’ll be a better journalist. You’ll be a better lawyer. And you might just become the best President a company has ever had.

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