What Do You Want to Be When You Grow Up?

The American culture puts a lot of emphasis on what people do for a living. When you first meet someone, they often as, “what do you do? Other cultures ask about your background, family, etc. first. We ask small children, “what do you want to be when you grow up?” A dumb question really because they don’t even know what they’re doing next month since they don’t have a sense of time.

This emphasis on career puts a lot of pressure on people, especially young people. At the age of 18 and even younger, they feel pressure from school and parents to know what they want to do, without being given any guidance as to all of their options. As an adult, you may compare yourself to other’s career success, making yourself feel bad about yourself. It’s really silly because for all this pressure we’re given about career choices, no one really teaches us how to figure it out.

At most, in high school you’ll meet with a guidance counselor and take assessment tests that tell you what jobs best match your interests. This is such an old model of looking at choosing a career. Whether you’re still a student feeling lost with so many choices to make, or an adult wanting to do something more fulfilling with your time, here are some suggestions for figuring out what you should do for work.

If you’re happily content where you are, forward this to someone who could use it.

Instead of focusing on a job title, focus on an area of interest.

There are only so many options for the types of jobs there are out there. There is Business, Health Care, Service Industry, Technology, Arts/Entertainment, Law, Sciences, and Labor jobs. Underneath these areas are a whole lot of subareas. For example, in the service industry, that could be anything in hospitality, restaurants, accounting or mechanic. Under healthcare, there’s doctor, nurse, billing, management, medical supplies, etc.

When you have no idea what you want, think about the areas you know you definitely don’t want to do. For example, maybe you’re not interested in anything healthcare related. That’s good because that just eliminated a whole area of jobs.

The truth is, most people change jobs 8 times before they find the one they feel the most satisfied in. And even further than that, most successful people change job roles, in the same industry. You don’t have to be stuck in ONE job until you retire. Typically, as you grow and gain experience, you’ll get interested in other opportunities that you had no idea even existed.

 How do you want to contribute to move society forward.

Today, we are more connected then ever. A problem that is going on in another country can affect you in indirect ways. I think instead of getting stuck on a job title, it’ll help you get clear on your passions by thinking about what local or world problem you would like to contribute to improving. A good way to figure this out is…

What gets you upset vs what gets you excited?

What are some topics that you LOVE talking about? What do you enjoy doing, just for fun? Or what are some topics that you HATE? What is something that when you see it, it bothers you so much?

Someone who hates bullies for example, can go into teaching increasing confidence, or self-defense. Or even just simply live by example and advocate for kindness.

For example, I believe mental health is the foundation for every single area in our lives. And it bothers me that there is a lot of misinformation out there on what is a mental illness vs life events out of our control, contributing to the stigma of mental health.  Your mental health status  will affect your relationships, how much money you earn, how you treat others, your physical health, etc. Therefore, I’m passionate about educating others on how to improve negative thought patters, doubt, heal from negative experiences or stop self-sabotaging behaviors. My job is not to “cure” anyone, that’s not how it works. But I’m contributing to improving individuals, and in turn those individuals can be a better parent, a better daughter, etc.

For others, they hate seeing kids being mistreated. So they go into social services, or start an after school club for kids.

And some people enjoy hands-on work and go into service type jobs.

Change the way to look at work.

All this emphasis on career and work could be a cultural thing. In reality, a job is just how you make money in order to enjoy life. If you’ve ever been in a situation where you don’t have enough for what you need, life is stressful. Therefore, how nice would it be that what you do for a living is not torture? You don’t have to LOVE it, but at least it could be enjoyable.

For many people, because of circumstances, they feel that they can’t really do what they enjoy for money. Instead, they view a job as just a means to pay bills, but then focus on their passions outside of work. There is absolutely nothing wrong with this.


You are not going to figure out what you want by just sitting back and waiting for an opportunity to come to you. Instead, you have to try different things.

  • Research areas you’re interested in. YouTube or Google it. Or you can read biographies of known people who do or have done what you’re interested in.
  • If you know of someone who is doing something you may be interested in, look into how they did it and learn. If you personally know them, ask them questions.
  • Work for a Temp agency to get some experience.
  • If you’re not qualified yet to do what you want, try to get an entry level job or anything in that place just to be around the people who do what you want and learn by observation. You could have a work relationship with them and get “insider information” that you wouldn’t have know before.

It doesn’t matter what you do exactly, but the point is to explore different interests to see what it is that grabs your attention. And remember, you don’t have to be stuck with your choice for the rest of your working life.

About the author.

Liza J Alvarado is a Licensed Professional Counselor in private practice. She serves Adolescents, Adults, and the Spanish speaking individuals in the Lehigh Valley, PA area.






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