The elusive (and imaginary) road map!

When you’re a kid, everyone (especially your parents, your parents’ friends, and your teachers) asks
you “what do you want to do / to be when you grow up?” Before we tackle the terror-inducing
prospect of having to choose your life path when you’re still working out who you even are, let’s
acknowledge that we now live in an age when the idea of when you’ve “grown-up” is ambiguous at
best. We are now, on the whole, no longer aiming for one job that we will work until we retire. Even
if we remain in the same career, we are likely to be changing roles within that sector. The new and
emerging workforce is hungry not just for money and a stable job but a job that gives our life
meaning, that contributes to society, offers flexible working arrangements, opportunities for lateral
and hierarchical progression, and opportunities to intern or be seconded to other roles. We want
diversity and the chance to develop a portfolio of skills and experience.

As such, it’s time we re-thought that question or at least clarified what we are asking. When I reflect
on why I may have asked people that question or the typical adult-conversation-opener “So, what
do you do?”, what I really want to be asking or to know is: “What are you interested in?”, “What
are your ambitions or dreams?”, “What project is exciting you at the moment?”, “What drew you to
the work you’re currently doing?”. These questions get more at the gooey, marshmallow centre,
rather than the surface level answers we usually get back to the former type of questions.

But we don’t live in a perfect world. People are going to ask you what you plan to do with your life
and they will expect some sort of logical answer. So, what happens if you don’t know? I’m here to
tell you that that is OK. Some people have grown up knowing what they have wanted to and some
people figure that out later in life. Most people exist somewhere along that spectrum. And that
spectrum is constantly moving as we get exposed to new experiences, people, skills, and
knowledge. So, it’s OK if you don’t know and it’s OK if you change your mind. This isn’t “speak
now or forever hold your peace”, it’s “what will work for you right now based on what you know,
feel, and need?” Because sometimes it’s just about getting a regular income so your brain power is
freed up from acute financial stress to be able to focus on study, professional development, or
looking for a job more aligned with your interests.

I was one of those kids who grew up knowing what I wanted to do. I was so confident in my raison
d’être that I put it in my year 7 yearbook “I want to help people” (funnily enough, I was also
confident that I would work with dolphins but that seems to not have panned out...yet). And yet,
even with this goal in mind, there were so many different pathways I could have taken, and indeed
can still take.

So far, I’ve worked in paying-the-bills jobs, jobs that have advanced my career as a counsellor/
support worker, jobs that haven’t been good for me, jobs that I thought I was interested in but
discovered I wasn’t, and have done a bunch of volunteering to explore and develop new interests
and consolidate known areas of interest. If I had been expected to produce a linear progression or
road-map for all of these jobs and career changes, I would have failed. It wasn’t linear. And that was
great. It meant that I could choose what worked for me rather than being locked into a rigid idea of
what success is. Success will mean different things for different people but success to me means
living a life aligned with my values.

So, there you have it. I may not have been able to answer the “what do you want to be when you
grow up?” question with rigid and linear accuracy but I’ve had a far more fulfilling, educative, and
thought-provoking journey as a result. Go forth and choose your own adventure rather than having
one prescribed to or imposed on you. You will reap the benefits!

by Daisy Thomas

B Arts (Psychology & English Literature) Graduate