Friday, 21 September 2012

When I grow up I want to be a...

CAPS launched an awareness campaign this week. The purpose of the campaign is not only to raise awareness of the (fantastic) services and programs we offer at CAPS (shameless promotion, I know), but also to raise awareness about the importance of thinking about your career. When I say 'thinking about your career' I don't mean deciding now what you are going to do with the rest of your life, but rather considering how what you are or could be doing as a student - both inside and outside of the classroom - shapes your future (see previous blog post).

Our awareness campaign includes a contest, one aspect of which involves completing the sentence, 'When I was a kid, I wanted to be a...' It can be fun to ask little kids what they want to be when they grow up. While many will come back with what you might expect - doctor, vet, fire fighter - you will sometimes get an answer that gives you a good belly laugh - like fire truck instead of fire fighter. One of my co-worker's nephews once said he wanted to be a hockey stick when he grows up. "You mean a hockey player?" she asked him. "No, a hockey stick!"

When he was about four or five years old and learning how to swim, one of my great nephews told my sister he wanted to be an Olympic swimmer when he grew up - but only if he was allowed to take his noodle in the pool with him!

My first career goal was to become a nun. I think it was probably because my older sisters worked at a seniors home that was run by nuns and I used to go there a lot. The nuns seemed so cool and confident. And I loved the outfit! I also remember wanting to be a fashion designer, gymnast, actress and novelist. (That last one's still on my list.)

When I finished high school I wasn't sure what I wanted to do next. I knew I wanted to go to university but knew little about the the number and diversity of degree programs offered and what they could lead to. I chose Education because teaching was one profession I was familiar with. I had two older siblings and a brother-in-law who were teachers (not to mention having had almost daily contact with teachers from the ages of six to 18!). It is not uncommon for young people to say they want to work in professions or occupations their parents or other adults in their life work in.

I've found that pop culture can also influence young people's career goals. When I first starting working at CAPS, it seemed there was a relatively high number of students who asked about becoming an archeologist. Guess what the blockbuster movie of the day was - Indianan Jones! The next hot job was jet fighter (Top Gun), then paranormal investigator (The X-Files), then criminal profiler (Profiler) get the picture. Of course, there are risks with basing your career aspirations on what you see on television and the movie screen but I won't go into them here.

The point I want to make it is that it is kind of unfair to ask kids what they want to be when they grow up. It's asking them to predict the future (and we all know how great adults are at doing that). And if you ask people well into their career if they are doing what they thought they would be doing when they were a kid or even a young adult, the vast majority will say no. The reality is that most people's career emerge as they experience new things, make new connections, etc., etc. So I think we should stop pressuring kids by asking them what they want to be when they grow up. Of course, you might have an ulterior motive for asking. As stand-up comedian Paula Poundstone says, "Adults are always asking little kids what they want to be when they grow up because they're looking for ideas." Not a bad strategy...

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