What Do You Want to Be When You Grow Up?

How can you know what you want
Till you get what you want
And you see if you like it?
— Steven Sondheim, Into the Woods

We had some good friends over for dinner the other night. While we waited for the roast to finish, Wayne and I took the air on the back porch. We talked about work. I told him that this is a slow time of year at the box factory.

“Yeah,” he said. “It's slow for us at the dealership, too. The last three weeks have been awful.” Wayne works for a local car dealership. He recently moved from sales to finance. He's the hardest worker I know, often putting in six ten-hour (or twelve-hour!) days in a single week.

We sat silent for a few moments. Wayne took a draw on his cigarette. I sipped my wine. At last he said, “You know, I don't hate my job, but I don't love it either. It's just not what I want to be doing. It's not my life, you know?”

“What do you want to be doing?” I asked.

“I don't know,” he said. “I'd really like to open a cigar shop or a wine bar or something like that.”

“Do it,” I said.

“I can't,” he said. “My family wouldn't approve.” His extended family is very religious, and they frown upon smoking and drinking. “I've also thought about starting a winery, or at least going to work for one.”

“That seems like a good fit,” I said. “You like wine. You know a lot about it. You're excellent with people. But…”

“But my family wouldn't like that, either. The thing is, I make good money at the dealership. I like my boss. It's a good job. But it's not meaningful. I feel unfulfilled.”

We shivered in the cold November air. We looked at the stars. “It's strange,” I said at last. “It seems that a lot of people reach their mid- to late-thirties and need a career change. They want to do something different. Or they wake up one day and realize that they have a certain skillset, maybe from a hobby or something, and that they could make money doing something they loved.”

“That's kind of what you're doing, right?” asked Wayne.

“Kind of,” I said. “I've always loved to write. On a whim I started to write about personal finance. I was surprised to discover I was good at it, that I could help people.”

“Do you like it?” he asked.

“I love it. I feel called to it. It's what I want to do. I'm not giving up my day job yet, though my day job is unfulfilling, too. I don't like my work at the box factory. But that job gives me unexpected benefits, like the time to spend writing. That job also pays the bills while I find my way with this.”

Wayne lit another cigarette while I told him about my friend P., who wants to start a bike-fitting business. “I think the key is to find something you love and to do it,” I said.

“But how can you know what you would love to do?” he asked. “How can you find that?”

“That's a good question,” I said. “I don't have a good answer. If you had told me a year ago that my vocation was to write a personal finance web site, I would have laughed. The idea would have seemed absurd. I think the key is to be open to new ideas. To be in a state of readiness. You want to be receptive to even the oddest thing that might come your way.”

Wayne nodded.

“You want to be able to recognize an opportunity when it appears,” I said.

“Yeah,” said Wayne. Just then, Kris called us inside to dinner.

Wayne and I never did finish our conversation. In a way, it feels like the continuation of a discussion I had last week with my friend AJ. She, too, is in her mid-thirties, and at a place in her life where she's not sure which direction to go.

“I just don't know what I want to be when I grow up,” she told me.

Few people do.

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Binary Dollar
Binary Dollar
13 years ago

Yep. I wish there was a time-tested way to ease yourself from a steady income career to a self-employed venture.

Russell Heimlich
Russell Heimlich
13 years ago

I just started a new job and I feel a little underwhelmed. I’m 21, and my whole life seems to have been leading up to this point, where I have a good job with a good salary. I feel like I don’t know what else to look forward to since in high school you look forward to going to college, and college you look ahead towards a job. It is probably still too new to judge how exciting this job will be since I have just barely started but how did you feel when you got your first real-world job?

surly
surly
13 years ago

I’m 25 years old and for the past 26 months I’ve been working at a job that’s extremely unfulfilling. I’m typing this from my desk right now. I’d go as far as to say I hate it. I am much too qualified to be doing the mind numbing tasks I do. But did it for 2 years to pay off some debt and have a simeple lifestyle. 3 weeks ago I decided that I will leave for good to try and start my own business and try to do what I actually enjoy. So after Christmas I’ll be on my… Read more »

Charles
Charles
13 years ago

Find it when you are young. I am not young and have that same or similar feeling: not hating it but not liking it much either. Pays bills and health insurance. Find your passion while you are young… Good Luck..

Covert7
Covert7
13 years ago

Wow, that story totally fits in where I am in my life now. I’ll be 30 in a few months and for the past couple of years, I’ve been experiencing the same questions and concerns with my current job. Not bad, but not fulfilling. It pays well and supports us as we’re getting ready to have our first child. So I fear things are only going to get tougher on me “experimenting” if you know what I mean. The good thing is I don’t HATE it yet. It’s flexible enough to where it enables me to have time and resources… Read more »

Phill
Phill
13 years ago

I’m no expert, I’m still a student, I’ve had a couple of jobs already, but I felt I ought to share a pearl of wisdom from a seminar I had earlier in the year. Aparrantly, in the UK at least, my generation will likely change careers up to seven times before finding “the one”. I’m not sure whether that means you need work harder to find the one you want in the first instance, or whether you should just go with the flow and see where life takes you?

Neil
Neil
13 years ago

Ah, but what if you hate your career choice and, despite having thunk on it for years and years, have never found something that you do want to do? In that case it would be foolish to leave the current well-paying job.

Why should one expect that their job is fulfilling?

eva
eva
13 years ago

I’m 32 and this was my conversation with my fiance yesterday – almost verbatim. Thanks for sharing. It’s good to hear that I’m not the only one. Intellectually I know I can’t be the only one, but it’s good to actually see/hear someone else say it.

JT
JT
13 years ago

I think a lot of us are in the same position, and it has a lot to do with the clarity you evaluate yourself and what’s around. Yourself first: try to assess what you’re good at and where you need help. Clearly identify your passion(s). What’s around: are there opportunities (market, job openings, big cash income…)? If it looks good, consider the timing and go for it. IMHO, It’s definitely easier when you come from a wealthy family (no wonder so many artists come from rich backgrounds), but not impossible otherwise. Maybe a little more planning is required because a… Read more »

JT
JT
13 years ago

“Why should one expect that their job is fulfilling?”

Because it’s the ultimate luxury. Being paid for something you would do anyway.

Serena
Serena
13 years ago

I went through some of this in the last few years (I’m 29) – I’m a scientist, so plenty of education, but about a year ago I really hated going to work everyday. I went to career counseling and it was the best thing for me – I realized I didn’t hate science (I love it) but I hated most of the everyday things I did as a hands-on researcher. I also identified the tasks I really enjoy doing – and was able to find a job (been here six months so far) where I manage large research projects –… Read more »

Tabby
Tabby
13 years ago

I’m almost 40 years old and I still don’t know what I want to do when I grow up. I always admired people who had such drive and direction–where they KNEW what they wanted in a career. I can’t say I’m unhappy because I’m in a position now where it’s OK, but I took a lot of twists and turns just to get to this point. “Putting Time In” for a job I hated never fit well with me ;). I still keep my eyes open, never know what opportunity is waiting.

Jeff Rudesyle
Jeff Rudesyle
13 years ago

I feel as though I’ve been blessed in this area. I happened to stumble upon computer programming in my early 20’s at the perfect time : my soon-to-be wife was expecting. I had been working at a Supermarket and hated it.

It sure makes life a lot more enjoyable when you enjoy your job.

Ken
Ken
13 years ago

I’m 23, and on my second “real” job. Pretty good salary for my age, etc, etc. Since I was in elementary school I’ve played with computers. I then went to college for computer science, and now work at a software company. I hate it; I wasn’t even this miserable working behind the counter at a local drug store..

The problem is, computers are the only thing I know.. Now what?

Evan
Evan
13 years ago

I feel very lucky as I’m 26 and have found a job that I love. On vacations I relax but still miss being at work.

Those times when I had so called “boring jobs” (mail clerk) I still found them wonderfully rewarding. It’s all about changing your mindset to fit the situation. If you can’t change the world change yourself.

Emma
Emma
13 years ago

I think people need to remind themselves that thinking about what they want to be or do for the rest of their life isn’t just for the young. If you’re in your forties, fifties or sixties, there is no better time than the present to pursue what it is you were meant to do or be. Everyone was created for a purpose. Our responsibility is to find out what that purpose is and only then will we find fulfillment in our lives. Thomas Edison once said, “the secret of success is focus of purpose.” Most people live their lives with… Read more »

P
P
13 years ago

This is a quick update on my discussion with JD regarding my bike fitting adventure. The greatest part of proceeding towards doing a job that maybe interesting and fulfilling has been the mental barriers that I have hand to set aside. By lifting the blinders to my own possibilities, strengths and desires I have the opportunity to take charge of other aspects of my working life. The initial steps to starting my business are not on the schedule I initially thought. This is due to the other players involved and that is the reality that I have had to come… Read more »

Harry
Harry
13 years ago

Anyone got a link to a career advice website? I’ve only managed to find sites sites that offer ‘free’ career aptitude tests but charge to see the results. 🙁

João Miguel Neves
João Miguel Neves
13 years ago

Harry, I’d recommend you the “Escape from cubicle nation” podcast. http://www.escapefromcubiclenation.com/get_a_life_blog/

There are others, but you can start there.

Matt
Matt
13 years ago

I’m not even in my mid-thirties and I’ve had that kind of conversation with my fiance and some close friends. The other thing that you need to consider is the risk involved; many people shy away from any risks because they feel they’re beyond their control. I stayed at a job I didn’t like because I was worried about the 2-3 week gap in salary between pays. I was there for years because of something insignificant. I’m no longer willing to accept that and I’m willing to consider things that might not pay as well as long as I’m more… Read more »

Denise
Denise
13 years ago

It’s good to know that people older than me feel the same way that I feel. So many of my peers know what they want, have an identifying label of what they do (not that I want a label, but you know what I mean.), and I don’t really have one.

Ashwin Foogooa
Ashwin Foogooa
13 years ago

Well done.

I’m fast approaching this category of people who reach their mid 30s and realize that they have been doing something that they no longer want to do. They only went into it because of decent career prospects and social acceptance of the job. Now that things have changed, the job’s appeal has gone down too.

I try to fill this gap by writing make money online blogs. Visit for review and comment!

Iain
Iain
13 years ago

Well, i’m glad that i’m not the only one who’s been thinking about this. I’ve been doing a lot of soul searching lately and i’ve decided that whoever said “if you do a job you love, then you’ll never work a day in your life” was absolutely full of it. I’ve used computers my whole life and i’ve been a computer programmer for the last 4 to 5 years… and I hate it (i’m 25 now). A small piece of advice from the other side is this: When you’re forced to do something for 40 hours a week to make… Read more »

jd
jd
13 years ago

re: Ken said “The problem is, computers are the only thing I know.. Now what?”

Think about what is required to work with computers. What thinking skills do you use with your computer work? Do you have to make decisions? Do you have to do research?

Don’t focus on the technical skills.

Just a thought.

jd

Kyle
Kyle
13 years ago

I’m in a slightly similar yet different position. I’m a mid-20s graduate student in the sciences. Simply put, graduate school is so awful, I have no interest in continuing what I’m doing once I get my PhD. I’ll never make back the lost wages from going the academic route (no one goes to grad school for the money). And now I’m banking on my PhD to get my hopeful employers to say “Well, he’s got a PhD, he should be intelligent and hard-working enough to work in _____” where _____ is something different from what I’ve been doing the past… Read more »

Eric
Eric
13 years ago

I’ve gotten into a situation where I do something I like in a field I love. I’m a musician but I have a long background in technology. I found a great job in IT working for a symphony orchestra. It’s not THE job, but it has given me several extravocational opportunities that I never would have found otherwise.

AJ, aka, the friend who lamented that she doesn't know what she wants to be when she grows up
AJ, aka, the friend who lamented that she doesn't know what she wants to be when she grows up
13 years ago

One of the good things about reaching my mid-thirties is finally feeling “adult” enough to take myself seriously and give myself permission to take an honest look at how I want to live my life. I’ve been lucky in my work, even the low-wage jobs I’ve held (bookseller/buyer) have been interesting. It isn’t so much that I don’t like the work I’ve undertaken as an editor/writer/researcher, it is that I am now in a place where I want more creative control over the work I do. What that entails though, I’m not sure. I’ve come to realize that I’ve pushed… Read more »

Elizabeth
Elizabeth
13 years ago

I’m 59! And while I still don’t know what I want to be when I grow up, I’ve become comfortable with the idea that maybe I never will know. I switched careers in my 30s, leaving graphic arts to get an MBA, and entered the corporate world in New York. After 1 1/2 years there, I was posted to Amsterdam. The job was okay, the money was good but looking back I realized the job was completely overshadowed by living overseas and getting to travel all over the place for work. After 12 years and 4 moves, my job was… Read more »

Angela
Angela
13 years ago

Well, I’m only in my mid-twenties so maybe I shouldn’t comment but I will anyway. I work for a large transport and engineering consultancy, I stumbled into my job by accident and I find it fascinating. But, I’m hoping not to do it forever, I think I might enjoy being a librarian at some point, and I’d love to do a PhD in the study of religions later on as well. I think its ok not to like your job even if its what you trained for. If it makes you miserable, then try to move on. If you can… Read more »

brad
brad
13 years ago

Making your life happen (as opposed to letting life happen to you) is challenging and in fact not always possible. I had big plans when I was in my teens and early 20s, but then things happened: I met someone, got married, made compromises, etc., and I never did end up pursuing those dreams. But I don’t regret it. One of the big lessons I’ve learned is that you can make almost any job or career fulfilling if you throw yourself into it with all your heart. I spent several years working as a dishwasher and enjoyed that almost as… Read more »

Crista
Crista
13 years ago

Similiar article here:

http://www.violentacres.com/archives/47/is-your-job-ruining-your-life

I have no idea what I want to be when I grow up, but I do know that I don’t want to be dependant on a job I hate.

Teri Pittman
Teri Pittman
13 years ago

It’s interesting. I did a lot of factory work jobs when younger. I enjoyed them, but felt like I could be doing more. So I went back to school in my 40s and wound up in tech support at the start of the tech bubble. Got to get a lot of paid training that I never got a chance to use but the travelling was fun. Spent 13 months out of work when the bubble burst. I’m still doing tech support but the pay is not good. And mostly, I’m tired of the amount of stuff I’m required to know… Read more »

Joecool
Joecool
13 years ago

It’s been really interesting reading all these entries. I’m 28 years-old and could identify with the article. Seems like I began questioning my career path while I was still in college, but I followed my parents’ advice and majored in something practicle, so that I’d be able to find a good-paying job after graduation. About a year into it, I decided to leave and try volunteer work. I really enjoyed the volunteer work, but of course it didn’t pay enough. Over the next couple years I tried a few other job, like construction, teaching, tutoring, etc. Eventually I landed where… Read more »

Jo
Jo
13 years ago

I think I must be a bit of a late developer, and definitely didn’t choose my career in nursing which has been intermittently fulfilling, (and intermittently awful!). But what it has provided is a means to an end. My life is not just my work – my work enables me to live the life I want. I should add here that I spent my teens and twenties reading John & Sally Seymour books on self sufficiency and dreaming of my cottage in the country – which was completely out of my reach on a nurse’s wages in the area I… Read more »

Jeremy
Jeremy
13 years ago

Does changing you’re real life characters’ names allow you to use their stories for your own profit without paying said real life characters?
🙂

gotrootdude
gotrootdude
13 years ago

When I grew up, I wanted to do for others. I still feel that way now that I’m grown. It has served to allow me to not only develop in a personal moral nature, but also in a financial nature. You see, I wished to aid others by sharing my knowledge and skills, yet one of my skills was having the ability to memorize and judge fair pricing. So, I took my fair pricing skill, and slowly sold others my other skills. Funny thing was, I had valuable skills, but did not start a business with them, and instead stayed… Read more »

gabrielle
gabrielle
13 years ago

i want to be a lawyer when i grew up because i love to help people solve their problems in court. lawyers are awsome. my cousin and i both want to be a lawyer. we might be working together. some people might want to be other things because they think that lawyers are stupi. but in order to be a good lawyer you have to be good at finding facts in a book.and in order to work as a lawyer, you have to have a license from the state telling whether you are working as a lawyer. the reason i… Read more »

Tonya
Tonya
13 years ago

What I don’t understand is how are you suppose to put your self out there and play the field when no one will give you a chance? What I’ve been having a problem with at least hear in Florrida is no one will hire you if you don’t have experience even if you have had some schooling. Either your too qualified,not qualified enough, or simply employers don’t have the time to train you. It’s like you have to know someone who know’s someone to just get your foot in the door to start at the bottom and even that doesn’t… Read more »

BTGNow.net
BTGNow.net
11 years ago

INterestingly I knew exactly what I wanted to do when I grew up: I always ALWAS knew I wanted to help people, and to try to leave the world a little better off than when I found it. I think whenever someone is asked or asks themselves what they want to be when they grow up, the invariably, and perhaps incorrectly begin trying to identify jobs rather than values. My desire to help people led me down a path that included brief stints trying to get into medicine, law, forensic science, psychology, and finally finance. But through it all, I… Read more »

Money Funk
Money Funk
11 years ago

Wow, so this feeling is just part of growing up then. I just turned 36 and I feel its time to do what I love. Just, what is it that I love and will provide for my family? Hmmm… The long unanswered question.

Questioning the "Bliss"
Questioning the "Bliss"
11 years ago

I find it so interesting that in this country we are all so dissatisfied with our work with such an emphasis on “finding our bliss” (thank you Joseph Campbell!). How many countries do people have absolutely NO CHOICES and are dirt poor and would give their left arm for the opportunity to work any one of our “dissatisfying” jobs?! I have no problem with doing what you love and getting paid for it- but I do have a problem with constant discontent in the land of plenty. This could be former socialist Russia where we are told what we will… Read more »

WereBear
WereBear
10 years ago

I never expected to grow up to be a cat advice columnist.

I didn’t even get my first cat until I was nineteen.

But now I am a cat advice columnist. And… loving it!

Income? Not that much, but I think it has potential. And with the economy the way it is, my relatively low expenses are better off being sunk into my cat advice site right now.

If I put the effort into it, it will grow. Because that’s my own skill set at work.

Randy Vaughan
Randy Vaughan
9 years ago

That one question was life’s first lesson regarding the importance of semantics as well as as foreshadowing of how convulted the workplace would prove to be. Silly me, but in my heart, soul, and intellect, my answer then, as it is now, was to answer the question that was asked. I.E., I wanted only to “grow up” to BE a decent, kind person. After that, well, working and paying bills was just something that was supposed to take care of itself. Little did I know, however, that they were NOT asking about a state of “being,” but rather my plans… Read more »

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