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A Simple Question

Updated on May 19, 2020
“The question, Raymond, was what did you want to be?” – Fight Club
“The question, Raymond, was what did you want to be?” – Fight Club | Source

In only six words, this question has managed to leave many people confused about how to answer it. Our response to this question inadvertently shapes a pathway for the rest of our lives. The question I’m referring to is, “What do you want to be?” From the moment we learn to speak, through the end of our education and into our careers, we are asked this question that our answer to, provides a path to a destination we chose at one particular moment in time. It may be the most significant question we are ever asked in our lives, and for many, may seem like a very difficult question to answer.

For those that say it was a simple answer, I would challenge that you may have never been asked the question at all. That whatever answer came upon you was a decision made for you by someone else, or a lifestyle you may have been born into and you presumed to have no other choice. When you were asked, “What did you want to be?”, you said “I want to an accountant, or a lawyer,” due to constant demand for these careers or, “I want to take over the family business” because it was meant for you. While those may be easy answers, they may not have been what you truly wanted to be.

Eventually a decision must be made, whether we have decided what we want to be or not. That point is at the end of high school, or somewhere in the beginnings of college, as you need to choose a subject matter or trade to study which is intended to better suit you for a particular career. Think of how you might have answered this question in 1st grade; Astronaut, Cowboy, Doctor, etc. It’s the same question as an adult except your decision must ultimately land you in some kind of profession; Business, Law, Engineer, etc.

An alternative approach to answering this question is to answer it without naming a profession at all. Instead of initiating the pathway after your first answer, let’s build the path methodically, calculated, with meaning. Each answer you give can be defined in a new question. I’ve come up with three vague answers that will help you better understand how to answer the question of, “What did you want to be?”

I want to be Great

This person wants to excel in some particular activity or subject. But that doesn’t help me decide what I want to be! Now put this goal into the question and ask yourself, “What am I great at?” “What makes me great at it?” “Do I care if I’m great it this?” Maybe you’re great at sports, or games, or communicating, or solving problems, or creating solutions, or building things. Maybe you relax and chill better than anyone else you know. Let’s take a look at a possible scenario:

John wants to be an Accountant > John fails accounting because he’s Great at poker > John spends 5 years becoming a Financial Analyst > John hates Accounting > John quits to pursue playing poker > John is an okay poker player

John wants to be Great > John is a great poker > He understands probability > He’s spent thousands of hours becoming an expert > He is a resource for probability and statistics > He’s a Statistician and teaches mathematics > He does risk assessment for insurance companies > He’s a data analyst > John is a Great poker player

We shouldn’t be so concerned with the name or title of the job defining what we want to be. Develop your talent into a unique skill that differentiates you from other people, regardless if that skill has no title or average salary. Become an expert, develop a unique skill set, and find a way to test your expertise.

I want to be Change

This person thinks a better way exists. Ask yourself, “What do I already change in this world?” “Is there something I do differently than others?” Whether it is changing what people wear, or what people buy, or the way people think, or a system in place that can be improved, or how something is made, or the way people interact, or the way goods and services are exchanged, etc. Identify things you already do that are different from the way things are normally done. Investigate the “why” to understand how change hasn’t happened.

Lisa wants to be Change > She hates that plastic gets dumped in the ocean > She recycles > She starts a company that manufactures product out of plastic removed from the ocean > She partners with businesses that support the idea > Lisa changes the way people think about throwing trash in the ocean

The world is constantly changing, and sometimes it needs people to be a catalyst for change. Find something that resonates with you, become an expert, and formulate a plan to follow through.

I want to be Help

Someone who answers in this way has a unique trait inside them, a calling to provide help to something or someone. Ask yourself, “Am I already helping?” “What type of help do I want to provide?” Maybe you want to protect people from fire, or crime, or disease. Maybe you want to defend the country’s freedom. Maybe you want to help animals, or people who live in impoverished countries, or people with disabilities or mental health disorders.

A real life example of a person like this is Mick Ebeling, author and co-founder of Not Impossible, and organization that views the word “impossible” as just a word for something that hasn’t been done yet. His work has helped develop creative solutions to real world problems that truly help people in need. (Link to the book for reference at the end.)

Find a passion that you can assist, become an expert, and be helpful.

I’ve mentioned the need to become an expert in all three of my examples. What becoming an expert means, is dedicating the time and effort to something so as to become a point of reference that others can rely on. This means you develop your craft, your skill set, your unique value that you bring with you into every situation you face. Study your greatness, become your change, and lead assistance to those in need.

Next time someone asks you, “What do you want to be?”, tell them what it is you truly want to be, not the profession you hope to end up working in for the rest of your life.


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