What do you want to be when you grow up?

First Grad Vince

What do you want to be when you grow up? Have you decided a major? What are your career goals and aspirations? Where do you see yourself in five years? For many of us these questions bring anxiety if we don’t have the answers. We respond with witty remarks like, “I don’t even know what I’m doing tomorrow?” or “Adulting is really hard.” No matter how we respond I find that these types of questions always leave us feeling a sense of pressure to know what the next step is and how we’re getting there.

Today, my friend Jeremy asked me a few questions that caused me to reflect on my journey of where I am today and if I am who/what I intended to be when I was a child. As I reflected on this question, I realized that I couldn’t remember what my answer was to the grand question that people ask when your like five or six. “What are you going to be when you grow up?” In those moments all I wanted was Saturday morning cartoons, recess, and snack time. I digress. What I do remember are the experiences and the people in my life who helped me cultivate the necessary skills to be successful no matter where I ended up in life.

Picture little first grade Vince reading about the gingerbread man. “Catch me if you can! I’m the Gingerbread Man!” My first great teacher, Ms. Wilgot, ignited the feelings of creativity, magic, wonder, and possibility! Imagine me a tiny  first grader (I didn’t grow until eighth grade) running home to tell mom and dad that a gingerbread man was running around the school. In fifth grade, Mr. Wright, was a stern and decisive man who gave us no other choice to be good students behaviorally and academically. He taught us discipline and focus. In sixth and eighth grade, my english teacher raised our self-esteem by making us recite an affirmation that we were champions and that we were capable of achieving great things. In tenth and twelfth grade, my geometry and calc teacher challenged me and two other students to solve a problem with little direction and with the pressure of the class not taking an exam riding on our success. In college, my greatest mentors asked me questions and gave me opportunities to clarify my values and identify my convictions.

Although I can’t remember answering the question of what I want to be when I grew up, I now recognize that they were helping me gain skills and confidence that would be valuable for the rest of my life. Take the pressure of finding a finite category in which to place yourself and reflect on the values and qualities you possess that are applicable to any place. Creativity, organization, passion, focus and discipline, determination, self-confidence, critical thinking and problem-solving, advocating your position and taking time to understand the perspectives of others and simply being yourself.

I have an idea of where I want to land as a future professional, but the existing representation of a job or position has yet to reveal itself and in any case, I’ll build the resolve to create my own life. The people who have been most influential in my life have helped me cultivate character, skills, my personal interests and the qualities necessary for success. I am who I am and it’s taken 23 years to accept and cultivate this confidence and  sense of self-respect that I possess. I am unwilling to settle for anything less than an environment that helps me become my best self and cultivates my passions. I share that not out of arrogance or entitlement, but more so to honor those who instilled the conviction and belief that the world could be better by giving your best to it. To settle for anything less would be a disservice to their efforts.

Leadership Advice: 1) Cultivate skills that are transferable. 2) Understand and clearly articulate your values. 3) Explore opportunities that help you develop who you are personally and professionally. 4) Until you find the perfect fit, work diligently to find it. 5) You still have to work to sustain yourself. Work until you land where you want to be for a while.


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