Our identity sometimes gets shaped by the question ‘what do you want to be when you grown up?’ But it’s unfair. A better question is ‘who do you want to be?’

How Identity is Skewed by One Unfair Question

Kids get their first exposure to identity through one simple question:

What do you want to be when you grow up?

It’s a seemingly harmless question. And it may be one of the most commonly asked questions of kids throughout countless generations. Although it’s not one that is ill-intended, it may in fact be a harmful question when it comes to personal identity.

Asking kids what they want to be when the grow up may be designed to get them thinking on a bigger scale, but it’s probably more serving to the adults who are asking it. Think it over, as soon as a child proclaims the potential desire for a profession, we become eager to attach that to their identity. We buy them gifts related to it, it becomes the theme of birthday parties, and more.

This one simple question narrows their thought, creates anxiety, leads them to think they must wait to pursue dreams, and may even put them at odds with God. Don’t worry, though, there is a higher value question that can be better serving to them and you.

Who do you want to be?

Our identity sometimes gets shaped by the question ‘what do you want to be when you grown up?’ But it’s unfair. A better question is ‘who do you want to be?’
Our identity sometimes gets shaped by the question ‘what do you want to be when you grown up?’ But it’s unfair. A better question is ‘who do you want to be?’

Growing Into Your Identity

While pondering this post, I spoke with someone who was born the year I was just beginning my career (which differs much from my childhood ‘what do I want to be’ answer). This young gal shared that she was to begin her junior year of college and was dropping the pre-med from her major.

Her decision had nothing to do with the difficulty or grades. Rather, it was because, when she was little, she once said she wanted to be a doctor and felt obligated to pursue it. Even though she knew her passion for it had been waning as she matured, she still began college with a pre-med major. In the two years that followed, that desire further dwindled.

I have to applaud her courage to not continue down a path she knows is not necessarily WHO she wants to be. It’s great. Unfortunately, many folks in her position fight that instinct. They have tied WHAT they want to be to their identity, and locked them into something they may ultimately loathe.

Conversely, by considering WHO you want to be, you must give thought to your worldview. To the values you hold most dear. Knowing this, and staying true to it, you are more likely to find a career that is satisfying and less likely to feel like work.

For instance, a child that says they want to be a police officer may hold the values of protecting others and upholding justice in high regard. Similarly, a child that wants to be a doctor may have a desire to see those who are hurting to be healed. And a kid that wants to be a youtuber may value connecting with others or performing.

Your God-Given Identity

For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago. – Ephesians 2:10

Not getting locked into a “job” will free you to explore, innovate, and iterate. It reduces anxiety by not feeling an obligation to pursuing a career path that no longer interests you. Gone are those worries about not living up to expectations. With that comes the freedom to adapt to newly emerged technology and trends (sorry kid who said you wanted to be a travel agent back in 1985).

Even more importantly, designing your life according to worldview (WHO you want to be) rather than worldskew (WHAT you want to be), you better position yourself to follow God’s design for your life.

This realization has been incredibly beneficial to me as I experienced an identity crisis of sorts. After 20 years in one professional discipline, my job took an unprecedented turn. I suddenly saw my position cast into a new discipline – one I intentionally avoided earlier in my career.

It was followed with lots of questions, fears, and doubts. Maybe even some regret.

Processing Changing Life Seasons

Having embarked on this new direction, my worldview kept me grounded. As I questioned how to process this life change, I realized I had to turn all the fears, doubts, worries and – yes – regrets over to God. Life is constantly changing. I had to remember my identity is tied not to my work, profession, hobbies or anything this world has created.

God is our creator.

Not this world.

He’s the one who knits us together. Who knows the number of hairs on our heads. He’s the one who gives us a new name – not one that’s cast onto us by this world. We are children of God and our home is eternity in heaven.

And because we have this understanding, we must shape our worldviews around who we aspire to be, not a what. And the best part, we can get started on that at any age… not having to wait until we “grow up.”

Listening Up

I hope you enjoyed this post, and perhaps it inspired you. If  so, I would be honored if you considered purchasing my book, Listen Up, Kids: Foolish Dreams, Syncing with God, and Running to Win. It began as a letter to my three daughters and evolved into a short book of life lessons, encouragement, and more. One reader personally told me he thought it should be required reading for most dads.  

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