My father-in-law is an aircraft mechanic, so it made sense that when my oldest daughter was about three, she exclaimed, “When I grow up, I want to be Peter Pan to fly high next to airplanes so I can fix them in the sky.” She wanted to be just like her papa.
As she matured, her answers became less whimsical, more practical, but no less tied to what she knew best. For example, in dance classes since preschool, she went through a stage where she wanted to be a dancer which slowly morphed into a desire to be a dance teacher. Then, having been in a few stage productions, she expressed interest in studying theater. Also, a gifted wordsmith from the get-go, becoming a writer has occasionally been on her radar.
Interestingly, the tone of our discussions has changed dramatically over the years. In preschool, she was eager to answer the age-old what-do-you-want-to-be-when-you-grow-up question. But when she hit middle school and began looking into different professions for a research project, the idea of choosing a career caused her great anxiety. I’d often hear, “MOM! I’m ONLY in 7th grade! Why are you pressuring me about my future?”
While it’s true that most 11-year-olds don’t have a career path outlined in their junior high school years, I am certain that gently nudging our kids to at least explore future possibilities is important. The problem is that our approach has been all wrong. Instead of asking our kids what they want to be when they grow up, we should be asking them what problem they’d like to solve.
This notion of solving problems versus selecting occupations isn’t mine; it has been popping up everywhere, and I couldn’t track it to the original source. Nonetheless, I guarantee that adopting this line of questioning will revolutionize career conversations we have with our kids.
Just this past weekend at lunch with old high school friends, we asked our teenagers not what they planned to study (i.e. what they wanted to be when they grow up), but what problem they’d like to solve. It took a few minutes before they were ready to reply, but their answers astounded me.
Connor, a junior, explained that he’d like to solve the problem of repeated cycles; Drew, a freshman, talked of wanting to improve efficiencies. My daughter, Autumn, spoke of eradicating loneliness.
Instead of locking these students into a single career path, their answers sparkled with nearly infinite avocational possibilities! I could see Connor as a coach or a teacher, a social worker or a business owner; Drew’s vision could land him a position as a psychologist or a physicist, a principal or a politician; and Autumn’s focus could very well bring clarity to a career in theater, dance or writing — or perhaps land her in a field such as sociology, education or psychiatry!
Frederick Buechner said about vocation that “the place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.”
As parents, it is our great privilege and honored responsibility to guide our children through prayerful dialogue to the place where their “deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.” Getting them to think about what problems God might lead them to solve is a strategy that can revolutionize the important career conversations we have with our kids.
Happily conversing about careers,