The Question That Landed Me in a Psych’s Office

What do you want to be?
This question always baffled me, because I knew I was supposed to list a profession, but ultimately I would just like to ‘be’ happy. The amount of pressure I felt on my shoulders to choose a profession that would not only bring me success, prestige, riches and respect – but would also make me happy – landed me in a psychologist’s office. After hours of testing and my parents’ considerable financial support, I was presented with a list of jobs that I knew could make me very happy indeed, except for that issue of stability. I adore stability. I adore bills paid, heating/cooling to my heart’s desire, having mutliple lights on around the house, credit cards named after stupid metals and buying everything to do with a hobby before I even have started the hobby. I adore money. So despite my innate creativity and ensured happiness, the offer of being an illustrator or fashion designer was just not going to cut it. Regular pay checks are where it’s at for me.
And there in lies the harsh bitch of life. We ask children “what do you want to be?” and expect them to interpret this as a question about their ambitions and interests. But let’s examine the question – especially the question we bombard teenagers with as they prepare to leave school – the ‘be’ isn’t so much as about doing something, as it is about being labelled as something. We’re asking our children, our teenagers, ourselves – “what label will you happily wear for the world to see?” And I don’t know about you, but labels scare the bejeebers out of me! Labels are so easily manipulated into discrimination, exclusion and reputations. 

Michael Bolton from Office Space nails it:
“No, you’re working at Initech because that question is bullshit to begin with. If everyone listened to her, there’d be no janitors, because no one would clean shit up if they had a million dollars.”

I like the question “what do you want to work as?” At least we’re keeping it clear that this is a section of life, not a whole life. Once we’re adults, we even acknowledge that work isn’t our life because we don’t ask “what are you?” We ask “what do you do?” But we still answer as though it’s our label… “I’m a HR Manager” At least we’re asked with the benefit of the doubt that we may answer “9-5 I work in HR, other than that though, I’m mad keen on comedy.” 
I don’t know when it started, but I certainly enjoyed the golden age of work advice about choosing a passion, following your dream etc etc etc. And now the fashion is moving away from that fluffy advice (or is the economy wisening our asses up?) Either way, I believe a very quick way to change the dialogue is to keep questions about our future endeavours of ‘being’ to a strictly holistic approach. We are beings.
Btw, if you’re wondering how I can be employed in HR, and write about HR – here‘s my explanation.

Julie Waddell did a fantastic response to this post on her blog ‘Accidental HR’. I love Julie’s point that “NO ONE grows up wanting to be in HR.” I certainly didn’t amidst my plumbing and ferry captain ambitions. Have a read of Julie’s conclusions here!

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  • 26 September 2013