Ask Me Who I Want To Be, Not What I Want To Do

My name is Sam and I am a math and criminology double major with a minor in Spanish and I have no idea what I want to "do" in the future. Okay, maybe that statement is an exaggeration. I do have a general idea of the direction I will be heading post graduation. The point is, when someone normally asks me what I want to "do" with my majors, I tend to find myself not sure with how to respond.

I just finished reading The Gifts of Imperfection by Brené Brown (incredible read for anyone looking for any sort of growth book) and one of her chapters talks about cultivating meaningful work. In it, she talks about how she used to wince when someone would ask her "What do you do?" because it felt like the answer she gave would never be full enough to explain the kind of work she engages in.

Now, her answer to "What do you do?" is "How much time do you have?", a response she feels better represents the fact that that type of question is not one that can be answered simply.

This idea is one that relates to my earlier point of not knowing how to respond when someone asks me what I want to do.

The thing is, the question "What do you want to do?" is one that I feel diminishes a person down to their occupation.

Yes, our occupation is important, and I know that if we engage in meaningful work, in work that makes us come alive, that is filled with passion and purpose, then talking about our work is something that can capture who we are as people. However, in some cases, who one is in their core may not be something that is evident in the work they do. Someone might work a day job and then engage in a hobby at night, the hobby being what brings them joy and life.

In these cases, the answer to the question to "what do you do" isn't one that can fully capture who the person is, and that is a shame.

When I am asked what I want to do, I feel societal expectations at play: the expectation that I will get an "acceptable" job, climb up some ladder of promotions, and more. When I am asked what I want to do at 20 years old, I can't help but wonder if there is something wrong with me because I don't have it all figured out yet.

And yet, as I write this, I know I am not alone. I would bet money that someone, anyone, reading this knows what it feels like to not have everything sorted out. And that's okay.

This is why I'd rather someone ask me who I want to BE.

When someone asks you who you want to be, they are asking about your personality, your emotions, your soul, and to me, that is what makes us human and that is worth asking about.

I can tell you who I want to be: I want to be constantly connecting with other people, I want to be in spaces that make me feel heard and valued, I want to continue to be a good sister, daughter, friend. I want to fill my life with love and laughter.

I could go deeper and tell you I want to consistently be making music in some form, want to be a guide to others who have walked similar paths I have in some way or want to be engaging in work focused on social change.

All of these things I want to be shed light into who I am and what I value at a deeper level.

Reframing the question into who we want to be allows us to see that our goals and values are ones that are not ones that just fit one occupation. It can be easy to get caught in the trap of having our eyes set on that one "dream job." For some people, this is a natural course that works and results in their success and fulfillment.

Yet for some, it might not be that simple. Who we are, the character traits and skills we possess, are so complex and multifaceted. That is a beautiful thing not only because it expresses our individuality, but it allows us to be suitable for multiple paths in life. This means that we could end up having two careers or none at all, but a lifelong passion that we are consistently pursuing it.

When it comes down to it, we are so much more than can be answered by the question "what do you do?". As humans, we are lifelong learners, with various hopes, dreams, and fears, and we ought to start embracing that rather than limiting ourselves to a singular question.

So, readers, the next time someone asks you what you want to do or what you already do, I urge you to say, "how much time do you have?" or even better, explain who you are to your core. That is what matters.

Talk soon,


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