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"What Do You Want to Be When You Grow Up?" Are We Asking the Right Questions?

Updated on August 7, 2019
rebekahELLE profile image

Rebekah is an early childhood educator with sixteen years experience in the field. She enjoys educating others about working with children.

Growth Brings New Life

We grow up to be who we are from within.
We grow up to be who we are from within. | Source

We have all been asked or asked the question, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” And we’ve heard all of the typical responses of doctor, lawyer, nurse, teacher, with a few modifications for the 21st century. After living as an adult for a while, I now wonder, are we asking the right questions? If we want to assume and assure personal responsibility, does it matter what we want to be or what we do in our careers and work lives?

Have you ever heard any child respond, “ I want to grow up to be responsible and compassionate and giving." (Some have, including Logan LaPlante. See video below.) Are we programming our children to expect fulfillment and satisfaction from this mindset of growing up to be in a specific ‘profession’ or following in the family business? As an adult, do you find fulfillment and success in who you are as an human being, or do you associate your happiness, etc. with how you identify yourself. “Hi, I’m so and so, and I’m a doctor”, or “Hello, I’m just so and I’m a business owner.”


Leave footprints in your daily life.
Leave footprints in your daily life. | Source

What Are The Right Questions?

I recently read an article about important questions we should ask ourselves. A few of them jumped out at me as being more essential than the traditional, ‘what do you want to be when you grow up’ question. Perhaps the reason many cannot find personal fulfillment and happiness is because they have not asked the right questions.

Instead of focusing on how can I be successful and what job will offer me the most money (which is how many people determine what they want to be when they grow up), why not ask questions like, How would I like the world to be a different place because I live in it? Or, how do I want to to be a different person because I live in this world? Let’s take a look at the possibilities of how answering these questions may give us clearer focus on what is essential in our lives.

How Would I Like The World To Be A Different Place Because I Live In It?

How would I like the world to be a different place because I live in it? That’s rather a profound and powerful question. It requires us to think about what we value, our talents and skills, how we see our world, how we interact with others, how we respond to news and events that take place in our communities and around the world. It gives us reason to go inside of ourselves and discover who we are, what can we give, what is important for us to accomplish.

Maybe it gives incentive to pursue a certain profession or study in a specific field. It could open doors for us to take a look at something we may not have thought of before like volunteering or the Peace Corps. When we think about life in context of how can I make the world a different place, rather than what is life going to give me, it changes how we think about ourselves and takes less emphasis off of what our title may or may not be.

Are You Passionately Curious?


There are some who will respond by saying, it’s a worthless pursuit. What difference can one person make in this crazy world. To those people, I will reply with a rather obvious answer. Every idea or invention began in the mind and heart of one individual. What that one individual does with that idea or creative spark makes the difference. Albert Einstein once said, “I have no special talents. I am only passionately curious”. Are you passionately curious enough to make a difference? Does it matter if it affects millions or only a few, or even one? It matters to those it affects, even just one.

Life is messy and beautiful. It’s full of so much. I am passionately curious. I want to experience as much as I can. I want to make a difference and expect to make a difference. I want the world to amaze me and disgust me. I am different because I live in this world. The world is different because I live here. We all make a difference. The world is both our canvas and sometimes it’s the brush. We paint, and sometimes we are the painting. Enjoy the magnificence of your life journey.

— rebekahELLE

John Howe Found His Passion As a Child

John Howe, a famous illustrator most notably known for his work with Peter Jackson’s award winning movies, The Lord of the Rings Trilogy, and The Hobbit, (both based on the books by JRR Tolkien) naturally evolved into his career. He notes that from a young child he always drew. Following his passion and interest for medieval time periods, fantasy and working with light and pencil, he has been able to make the world of hobbits and middle earth come alive for generations to come. In this shortened version of the documentary, John Howe There and Back Again, the narrator says so eloquently, “Through his craft, he helps us explore the limits of our own environment, making the margins between these real and dreamt universes as thin as a piece of paper.” The following seventeen minutes are worth watching and listening to for an understanding of how we can become who we naturally are within.

There and Back Again

Each New Morning Brings Opportunity

We can be different people from experiencing life with new perspective and expecting to learn something from everyone we encounter in our daily lives. Have you ever been somewhere and saw a person or witnessed an event which left you with a lasting memory? I’m sure most of us have.

How we respond or react to these life changing moments can help to make us a different person. Sometimes it helps to keep a journal and write down thoughts and feelings about life experiences.

I know for myself, it helps to clarify and put things in perspective, whatever the emotion may be.

"Could a greater miracle take place than for us to look through each other's eyes for an instant?" Henry David Thoreau

How Can I Be A Different Person Because I Live In This World?

The next question we may ask ourselves is; “How can I be a different person because I live in this world”? What experiences do we want and need to enrich our lives? Let’s face it, the world affects us. Will we design our lives or live by accident? Many people never experience anything different because they don’t think about how new experiences can broaden and often enhance their lives. Fear may paralyze them from moving forward, stepping over the line, living outside of the proverbial box.

Prejudices keep some away from understanding different life situations and cultural upbringings. We may live our lives thinking a certain way about a country or a group of people never experiencing the common thread of humanity which runs through our veins.

Logan LaPlante at TEDx University Wants to be Happy and Healthy When He Grows Up

Thank You For Reading and Please Feel Free To Leave A Comment.

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    • rebekahELLE profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago from Tampa Bay

      Daphne, thanks for commenting. I don't think we ever really 'grow up'. Hopefully as human beings, we continue to evolve and explore that which we already are. But our thoughts and attitudes can help or hinder us along the way. I hear you when you say how people complain that if this or that happens, then they will be happy. I'm pretty sure life doesn't afford us so easily with waving a magic wand to create happiness. It truly already is within, perhaps buried at times, but the potential is always there. I love your line about 'development of who I am is the larger part of my journey'. Enjoy the 'messy and beautiful' of LIFE. They can both be the same. :)

    • DaphneDL profile image

      Daphne D. Lewis 

      6 years ago from Saint Albans, West Virginia

      Now I'm thinking about all the questions you asked. I'm always saying that I don't really know what I want to be when I grow up, but I have discovered what I do not want to be. Life offers us so many opportunities and experiences. I hear so many people complaining that if only this or that would happen, they would be happy. Those things will probably make them happy, but not for long. One has to find happiness within oneself. While wanting to experience as much as possible, development of who I am is the larger part of my journey. Life is very "messy and beautiful," and sometimes, just sometimes, they can both be the same.

    • rebekahELLE profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago from Tampa Bay

      Thanks Bill. I understand what you're saying. I think as we experience more of life, we see that what we once felt was important is really not that important. The tapestry of our life, hopefully, is filled with a myriad of threads woven together in a way to display the intricate pattern of our individual journeys. I'm glad you enjoyed this hub and thanks for reading and contributing your thoughts. Much appreciated!

    • bdegiulio profile image

      Bill De Giulio 

      6 years ago from Massachusetts

      Hi Rebekah. You know the older I get the more I am asking myself these very questions. And I wonder why when I was young that I looked at life differently. I think you hit the nail on the head. We should not be asking our kids what they want to be when they grow up and pushing them into lucrative careers. Why are we not asking them how they can make a difference or what their passions are. My job does not define me. It is not my passion but a means to an end. I know it's sad but my non work life is where I get to live my passions by exploring, traveling, discovering and now writing about it all. I sure wish I was asked the "right" questions when I was young.

      Very thought provoking hub, which a thoroughly enjoyed. Have a wonderful weekend.

    • rebekahELLE profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from Tampa Bay

      Thanks Carly! I like the 'then what' follow up question. I think so much emphasis is put on money and professional status that children grow up thinking that titles and income are what makes an adult an adult. With this hub, I'm trying to put the emphasis back where it belongs. We're all going to have different interests and talents that make us unique. Children can learn and develop more naturally into who they are with these simple questions. I would love to hear some follow up comments on how your children respond to the questions. They do require some time and thought. Thanks for the up vote and share, very much appreciated!

    • CarlySullens profile image

      Carly Sullens 

      7 years ago from St. Louis, Missouri

      I agree with this 100%. I have two elementary school aged children and they get this question asked a lot of them. I didn't know how to rephrase it for them, but now your article has helped me tremendously.

      When they did answer, I usually followed up with another questions.... "And then what?" I didn't want them to think you choose one profession and you are that for the rest of your life. I want them to think of the many, many things they can do beyond their 'professional status.' And not be tied down to just one thing.

      Now I can ask them, " How would I like the world to be a different place because I live in it? Or, how do I want to to be a different person because I live in this world?"

      Thank you! Voted up and shared.

    • rebekahELLE profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago from Tampa Bay

      Nice to see you RTalloni, thanks for reading and commenting.

      I'm glad you took the time to watch the John Howe video. I wish more people would take time to ponder their life path.

      I believe we short sell our children when we put more focus on job titles rather than reaching their potential as human beings. I love the What About Now video because it reminds us that life truly is more valuable when we are of service to humanity. This can happen by asking the right questions of not only our children, but ourselves.

      Thanks for posting that graduation speech thread in the forum. I loved watching the video of David McCoullough's speech.

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      So much to ponder here--an amazing read from start to finish. John Howe's video was a fine addition to this piece: "I find myself constantly shifting back and forth between landscapes and details." "It's quite an exercise to actually look properly at things…"

      This question of the right questions is so important.

    • Teylina profile image


      9 years ago

      Have finally read this again, and I think you are so right, and I like your asking the question, "Are We Asking the Right Question?" For the most part, I don't think so, except in some families where they know how to communicate with a child and instill codes, morals, etc. that will work for life in any situation. Thanks again for writing this back when. Hope a lot of people will read even if don't comment!

    • rebekahELLE profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago from Tampa Bay

      Thanks moiragallaga, I so agree about not getting the right answers if we fail to ask the right questions. I'm glad you enjoyed it and found it helpful!

      Terri, Thanks for your comment and I appreciate your thoughts. Hopefully readers will pause a bit while reading and reflect. It's never too late to ask the right questions for our lives. I love that Einstein quote!


    • Terri Meredith profile image

      Terri Meredith 

      9 years ago from Pennsylvania

      Wonderfully refreshing to read a piece about personal responsibility toward ourselves and our place in the world, for that is what takes place when we begin to ask ourselves these questions. It's so easy to point accusing fingers at others about their failures, but so much more productive to view ourselves under a bright light without the shadows to soften the image.

      Albert Einstein: Try not to become a man of success but rather try to become a man of value.

      Awesome topic! Hats off to you!!!

    • moiragallaga profile image

      Moira Garcia Gallaga 

      9 years ago from Lisbon, Portugal

      Very interesting hub rebekahELLE, profound and filled with valuable insights. It is also thought provoking and inspires introspection. Asking the right questions is very important indeed, because if we're not asking the right questions it's doubtful we'll ever find the right answers. Thanks for sharing this, enjoyed reading the hub.

    • rebekahELLE profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago from Tampa Bay

      This is very beautiful, Winsome. A seed with all its life and vitality ~ lovely imagery. Thank you for posting it today, it will serve as a tribute to our lovely Cris A who graced this planet with his presence for a short, brief stay.

    • Winsome profile image


      9 years ago from Southern California by way of Texas

      I am tiny, insignificant

      Not a mighty tree

      Not a branch

      Not even a fruit

      Only the smallest part

      A seed

      I am tiny, insignificant

      Not an ocean

      Not a cloud

      Not a river

      Only a pool

      Beneath a tree

      I am tiny, insignificant

      Not a planet

      Not a mountain

      Not even a field

      Just some mud

      In a small pool

      I am tiny, insignificant

      Not the sun

      Not a rainbow

      Not lightning

      Just a ray

      Barely hitting the ground

      In a dirty pool

      I am a seed

      I am important

      But only when I let go

      Only when I fall

      Into a place

      Where others just as vital as I


      Awake pool

      Awake you bit of mud

      Awake you ray of sun

      I will make a difference

      And you will help

      Awake world

      I'm coming ~ Winsome

    • rebekahELLE profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago from Tampa Bay

      capricornrising, thank you! I somehow missed this comment, and appreciate your very kind words. I'm glad that you also have enjoyed reading my Paris hubs and for the memories they brought back. I really wouldn't want to write in a less personal style. I want to connect with the readers! Thank you for reading and commenting!

    • capricornrising profile image


      9 years ago from Wilmington, NC

      I see why you're successful and widely read. Your style is personal, insightful, open-hearted, and therefore extremely engaging. I read your Paris hubs as well, and felt such a nostalgia, though I was only there for 9 days. I loved having been transported back for a few moments!

    • rebekahELLE profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago from Tampa Bay

      Thanks cclitgirl, our world is different than generations ago, and yet we are still the same in our human element. I hope more and more humans realize our greatest potential is within us. I read something today posted on a Facebook wall that was interesting, it said something to the effect of 'think of your current job as the job you've always dreamed of and see how it changes your work perspective and environment.' Thanks again!

    • cclitgirl profile image

      Cynthia Calhoun 

      9 years ago from Western NC

      Great hub - It reminds me that it used to be in our society, it didn't matter what you decided to become as long as you were hard-working and contributed positively to society. Now, it seems like so many choose a career to make money or they do something they're not passionate about because it doesn't pay enough. But, choosing what to do is a lifelong thing, I think. Thanks for this beautiful hub.

    • rebekahELLE profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago from Tampa Bay

      Teylina and Melovy, thanks for reading. I'm glad to hear it's striking a few chords after reading. Like the tree in the top photo, I believe we are meant to grow up to be who we are from within. We can discover our gifts and talents and use them in the best way we are able. It's a lifelong experience.

      LL, she's beautiful. Thanks for responding and letting us know. :)

    • Melovy profile image

      Yvonne Spence 

      9 years ago from UK

      This is a very interesting hub. I’m not sure if I can get my thoughts on it together to make a coherent comment because you have touched on something that affects so many aspects of life!

      I have often noticed how easy it is for parents to get caught up in imagining scary futures for our children. (I say ‘our' because although I am aware of this I am not totally immune.) My feeling is that when we as parents go inside and consider how we live our own lives and make the changes we want to see around us, then our children follow that and don’t need a huge lot of directing.

      I often hear parents worrying about how their children are doing at school and trying to make sure they get help to fulfil their potential, and while I can understand this, I’m not sure it actually helps the kids. I did sometimes think that perhaps I "should be doing more" for one of my children, and yet I kept feeling that as she was so happy anyway it really didn’t matter whether she would achieve enough academically to go to university. Now I’m really glad I trusted that intuition as she is blossoming at school without any interference from me! I guess it’s not always easy to have that trust and so easy for people to think they ‘should’ be following that path that is most often trodden.

      Thanks for a thought provoking hub.

    • livelonger profile image

      Jason Menayan 

      9 years ago from San Francisco

      RebekahELLE: That's my niece! She is an absolutely adorable little girl. :)

    • Teylina profile image


      9 years ago

      Liked your comment about messy and beautiful. From the time I can first remember my mother would comment on all sorts of things: "why do the most beautiful and best things in the world have to be the messiest?" A kid--I didn't even ask. As a grown-up, I didn't have to!

    • rebekahELLE profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago from Tampa Bay

      Thanks Kwame. :) Nice to see you here!

      @always exploring, Thanks for reading and glad to hear it's thought provoking. I'm very certain there are many happy doctors, etc. and I'm not being critical of them in any way.

      I think there are certain professions that could very well be a calling, from an early age. I'm grateful that there are those who follow their dreams and pursue their passions. They do make a difference in our lives.

      I like your screen name, always exploring, enjoy!

      Hi livelonger, I so agree with you that children can be raised in an environment in which these kind of questions come forth naturally. Parents can help their children learn how to discover their talents and passions. I do feel that parents who force their children to pursue specific careers only to gratify their own ego, or feeling it is the ticket to their success, can be very damaging and sometimes very expensive. If we train them right, they will ask the important questions and hopefully discover their paths on this journey through life.

      Jason, who is the very sweet little girl on your avatar? What a beautiful photo.

    • rebekahELLE profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago from Tampa Bay

      Thanks Connie, That's great that you feel like you're making a difference in your work. It makes me think of the butterfly effect, and how there are so many tiny factors which eventually affect larger systems. How you help one person can in turn affect any number of people, continually multiplying to more and more people. Using the talents and skills we gain throughout our lives certainly makes a difference in our world. Thanks for reading and I hope the year ahead is full of wonder for you!

      Hi TK, thanks! I definitely believe in dreams and having goals, but I think you're right that some are now finding themselves possessed by their own possessions in that quest for having it all. I think being passionately curious can lead to great discoveries. It's certainly a topic that can lead to deep conversations and thought.

      I'm glad you enjoyed it! :)

    • livelonger profile image

      Jason Menayan 

      9 years ago from San Francisco

      Interesting, and I agree that the values you hope you embrace when you're older are typically not covered during these types of "goal-setting" questions posed to children. Maybe they're too young to grasp what that means? But it is important for kids to be raised in a way that they ask these questions themselves when they get older.

    • always exploring profile image

      Ruby Jean Richert 

      9 years ago from Southern Illinois

      A wonderful thought provoking piece. Happiness comes from within, oh i know a Doctor or someone who makes a lot of money is happy, but really? I know many who are not. Fulfilling your dream, that's the key..Thank you for sharing..Best Wishes..

    • KwameG profile image


      9 years ago from MS

      Great job, it is all in the Being! :-)

    • TKs view profile image

      TKs view 

      9 years ago from The Middle Path

      Awesome topic Rebekah. Filled with deep insights that spur my passionate curiosity.

      The world around us is changing. Since the end of the Cold War, Capitalism has run amok. We are now finding it to be a dead end road because along the way, we subjugated the value of ourselves to what we possess, and have become possessed by.

      Thanks to enlightened people like you, we are awakening from the delusion of our short-shortsightedness.

      The video was quite the trip down memory lane. Haven't heard that song in ages.

      The quote from Thoreau, off the charts awesome for me.

      Have a great day.

    • Connie Smith profile image

      Connie Smith 

      9 years ago from Tampa Bay, Florida

      This is truly a thought provoking hub, Rebekah. When I asked myself this question a few years ago, I found that I could make a difference by writing about for-profit colleges, one in particular. Though it was a small effort and also quite controversial, I believe that I have made a difference for many people. So, just like when we ultimately choose a profession, we can use our current talents and interests to make that difference. It doesn't have to be huge and it doesn't have to affect a million people. Making a positive difference in the life of even one person is a great thing. So wonderful for all the little children in your orbit to have such a wonderful and positive role model to look up to. You are making a huge difference in those little lives.


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