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What do you want to be when you grow up?

Posted on: February 3, 2017

The visitations we do every Lunar New Year remind me of one thing I loved and another I hated when I was growing up.

Like most other kids, I loved getting hongbaos (red packets with money inside). Who wouldn’t?

I disliked being asked what I wanted to be when I grew up. I simply did not know, and when I said so, I was bugged into giving an answer that made an adult happy. And then I got a hongbao.

The question “What do you want to be when you grow up?” is still a conversation starter with well-meaning adults. Well-meaning, but disconnected.

I have questions for those adults:

  • Does “be” refer to one thing? Why just one thing?
  • Why wait till you grow up?
  • How grown up is “when you grow up”?

I am pushing 50 and I still cannot answer that question.

The child and learner of today might ask the same questions. They have even more options than their parents and will grow into contexts quite different from them.

The expectations and projections are different. For example:

We teach differently based on whether we still ask the question “What do you want to be when you grow up?” versus this collection of questions:

  • What can I do now?
  • How is what I learn now relevant and powerful to me?
  • Why do I need to learn this?
  • Are you preparing me for your past or for my future?

The old question is easy to answer; the new questions are very difficult. It is easy to retreat into our shells and do what is easy. It is more important and our responsibility to tackle what is difficult.

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