Do you remember when adults used to ask you what you wanted to be when you grow up? Do you happen to remember at all what you used to think when you were asked that question? I do. I remember thinking what an odd question to ask. I remember thinking, “well I’m just going to be me of course! Who else would I be?”.
Even at the age of 18 (and well beyond that), my mum still regularly questioned me about my intentions in life and what I would be become and what I would be once I finished my degree etc. I never seemed to have an answer that satisfied her. I tried to explain to her I simply wanted to live as wholeheartedly as possible and that I looked forward to finding out where that journey would take me. This would simply frustrate her no end, she wanted names, qualifications, job titles, dates and a whole timeline of my life that she could set her clock to. I found her obsession with my future identity completely puzzling. I felt like a disappointment to her until well in my thirties.
I would like to kindly ask all adults to stop asking children – or indeed anyone – this very silly question. I know it seems a perfectly innocent question to ask, as adults we are fascinated by the potential of children and we want the best for them, but when we ask such a question of them, don’t you see how we simply make them doubt themselves? It is actually potentially quite a harmful question to ask.
The more you ask a child what or who they want to be, the more they begin to question themselves. They were just being perfectly themselves and now the pressure starts, they feel like they are expected to decide on becoming someone else. The message this question gives them is that they are apparently not enough just as they are.
Once the first few cracks of doubt appear, so many more start to flood in and you know the story very well – then we spend our lifetimes trying to battle demons and get rid of them – rather unsuccessfully much of the time.
I know us adults want the best for our kids. The question we can ask of them instead is not one of “being” – for they are already “being” themselves quite perfectly and could teach us a thing or two about that.
The question adults really mean to ask is what would they like to do. The difference is significant. What you do is independent of who you are.
If you met me when I was 6 and asked me what I would like to do when I grew up, I would have answered very confidently that I wanted to travel the world and learn all about different cultures and I would have spent a long time telling you about my dreams with great enthusiasm. But it was always clear to me that I was already the only person I could ever be.
This semantic difference is not the preventative cure to all self-doubt, it’s simply a message I have waited 37 years to tell people. As a child I really wanted adults to know they should stop asking such stupid questions. So here you have it – the wisdom of the childhood me. She’s feisty you know and she has pigtails, so I hope you take heed.