What Do You Want to Be When You Grow Up?

Steps to Decide on the Right Job or Career

Image by Derek Abella © The Balance 2019

"What do you want to be when you grow up?" is a question you will likely hear a lot as you're growing up. If you're not sure, review these tips and advice on how to consider career options and decide on what could be the best career path for you.

Doing so can help inspire you. And don't be concerned if you don't have a definitive answer to this question. After all, grownups change jobs and careers quite frequently. 

Choosing a Career

Choosing a job or career is one of the most important decisions of your life. If you’re like numerous young people, you don’t know the answer to the big “What do you want to be when you grow up?” question, and you’re stressed about it. That's even more likely to be the case if everyone you know is asking you what you want to do.

Maybe you have a few ideas about what path you’d like to pursue, but you don’t know whether these ideas are realistic or not.

Maybe you're asking yourself questions such as:

  • Is it best to follow my dreams or is it best to be practical?
  • When should I decide?
  • Can I change my mind or will I be locked into my career choice?

Deciding on a career isn’t easy. If you haven’t figured it out yet, you’re not alone.

Many freshmen enter college undecided on their major. And 30% of college students change their major within three years of enrollment, according to research from the U.S. Department of Education. Being undecided or changing your mind is normal.

Determine Whether Your Dream Can Be a Career

If you’re lucky enough to have a passionate interest, it’s a good place to start exploring the options for what you could do. Maybe you love to sing, but you know that your chances of making it as a singer are slim because there’s so much competition. What about other jobs with which you could take advantage of your musical talents? Maybe you could become a music teacher or perhaps a sound engineer.

If you love to perform, you are probably an outgoing person who enjoys being with people. These qualities are essential for most sales jobs. Cool jobs might be hard to get, but some people are lucky enough to get them. Maybe it can be you?

How to Get Started

Keep in mind that skills pay the bills. You don’t need a Ph.D. to get a good job, but most of the “best jobs” in the fastest-growing fields require specialized training, beyond what you’ll get in high school. Here's how you can start the process:

  1. Make a list of 5 to 10 jobs you’ve thought about. Keep in mind that you can always remove and add jobs from the list as you learn more about what you do and don't like about them.
  2. Organize the list, putting your favorites at the top. For your top three choices, list the positives and negatives. For example, if “veterinarian” is at the top of your list, a positive reason for choosing this field is that you love working with animals. On the negative side, it takes eight years of college to become a vet, and it’s not easy to get into vet school. Listing positives and negatives will help you start figuring out what’s most important to you. For instance, starting your own business is a big commitment. Is it more important for you to be your boss, or would you rather have more time for your family?
  3. Take some career testsOnce you get the results of your career test, you'll be able to compare the results to the list you made. If you find a match, it’s a good place to start digging deeper. Don’t worry if you get a result you don’t like at all. The tests aren’t perfect and you can cross off the jobs that have zero appeal to you.
  4. Talk to a teacher or guidance counselor. A good teacher will likely have some smart things to say about your ideas and your talents. Start the conversation by bringing in your list. It will show your teacher that you’re serious. If you don’t like what the teacher has to say, you don’t have to follow the advice. But it won’t hurt to hear it. Talk to other trusted friends and family members, too. The more people you talk to, the more ideas you’ll get.
  5. Learn more about the job by doing some online research. Some questions you can ask yourself, and seek answers to include:
  • What kind of training do you need to get the job?
  • Does it require a college education? If it does, what kinds of classes would you need to take? Can you handle the courses?
  • If the job doesn’t require a college degree, does it require specialty training?
  • Are there programs in your area or would you have to move somewhere else? If you joined the military, could you get the specialized training you’d need for the job?
  • How much does the job pay? If the answer is “not much,” is that important to you?
  • Would you work regular hours or does the job require a flexible schedule?
  • Does the job sound too stressful or too boring?
  • Do you think the job would be fun to do?

Try Out Some Career Options

You can also learn more by testing out career options. Does your high school or college have a job shadowing program? You may be able to spend time with professionals who work at the jobs you're interested in to get the scoop on what they are like.

Spending a few hours or a day on the job is a great way to get inside information. Volunteering or doing an internship are other ways you can learn more about a role before you decide to pursue it. The more information you have, the easier it will be to make a decision.

Stay Flexible and Open to New Ideas

Over time, you’ll discover that some doors close, but others open. For example, say you had thought you wanted to become a doctor but you had got a B-minus in organic chemistry. With that B-minus, you may not be able to get into medical school, but there are hundreds of health-related jobs that don’t require organic chemistry or won’t hold that grade against you. Some of these jobs are just as fulfilling as being a doctor, pay well, and leave more time for a personal life.

People change over time, and so does the job market. Your grandparents would never have planned for a job in computing because there weren’t any. Now millions of people have jobs in the computer industry, whether they work for an internet company, write code, or sell products in the Apple store.

You can’t plan for jobs that don’t yet exist, but you can bet that most jobs in new industries will require that you know some computer skills and can write a typo-free note or email. The more skilled you are at the basics (reading, writing, arithmetic, etc.), the better your chances at thriving in whatever new roles come along.

The Journey of a Thousand Miles

There’s a famous Chinese saying: “The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” If you follow all these recommendations, you still might not have found the answer to the question of what you want to be when you grow up, but you will have started the journey. 

And if someone asks you what you want to be, you can answer the question truthfully: “I’m exploring my options."

 

Article Sources

  1. U.S. Department of Education. "Beginning College Students Who Change Their Majors Within 3 Years of Enrollment." accessed March 16, 2020. 

  2. Literary Devices. "A Journey of a Thousand Miles Begins with a Single Step." Accessed March 16, 2020.