Who do you want to be vs. what do you want to do

Most of us have been asked the question, “Who do you want to be when you grow up?” when we’re a child and it isn’t until later that the “be” turns into “do.”

Often, you get the cute smile of a child with big dreams yelling, “An astronaut!” or “A doctor!”

Typically, a parent would encourage the child and offer words of affirmation to their childs dreams like, “You can do anything you want to do, sweetie.”

Slowly overtime, the culture around us starts associating the “be” and “do” of the two questions “Who do want to be?” and “What do you want to do?” as synonymous.

When in reality, these are two very different questions that need to be seen in its own distinctions.

As innocent and sweet as these moments may be, what happens when this question of “be” turns into the action of “do” and it becomes the focus of a child’s upbringing?

This innocent question suddenly internalizes to be a kind of turmoil that so many adolescents and teenagers obsess and worry over for years to come.

What if our culture and society focus on the “be” for its true definition?

According to the Merriam Webster Dictionary, the definition of “be” (although there is several definition)” is to:

“have identity with”

“to have an objective existence”


“have reality or actuality”

Merriam Webster

When the education system, families, peers and society as a whole uses the questions, “What do you want to do?” and “Who do you want to be?” as synonymous, a child’s identity is formed in what they do.

This performance based mind-set has a whole list of issues that I could get into another time, but for the sake of this blog, a child loses the ability to cultivate and discover one of the most important aspects of themselves.

Who they really are.

Not based off of what they could do, what they have done, or what they will do in the future.

What if generations of children could start learning who they ACTUALLY want to be first?

Do they want to be a kind person? A funny person? A helpful person? A creative person?

These are key discoveries to unlock who a child is apart from anyone and anything else.

Moreover, the question “Who am I?” tends to come way too late in a child’s development.

Unfortunately, by the time this question is asked, these children who are now adults, find themselves in dead end jobs, or some kind of midlife crisis where they feel as if they have no identity apart from their purpose found in what they do.

I’ve seen it happen and I’m sure some of you reading this have too.

What if children grew up thinking about this question as it ought to be thought throughout their years of development?

I believe that the “do” would come naturally and out of an overflow of who they are.

It would no longer be a burden but a gift.

I believe that children will start realizing the unique ways that they were made apart from others. The realization of their personalities, gifts and unique attributes will naturally form what they do throughout their life.

Will it alleviate all of the stress in general for adolescents and high school students thinking about the future?

Not completely.

But it will birth a special kind of confidence to this question that was found apart from anything they could ever do.

Maybe then we could find children excited for the future again.

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