Wednesday, September 30, 2009

I want to be a...

One of the favourite questions adults like to ask kids is "What do you want to be when you grow up?" More often than not, the question is asked for fun and out of curiosity, more than an actual probe.

But I think the impression kids get from being asked that question a lot is that they ought to know from a very young age what they want to be. The answers are usually quite predictable - doctor, teacher, scientist, musician, teacher, etc - essentially based on what the kids enjoy and think the occupation will allow them to do. Lesley-Anne has been vacillating between a vet and a dancer for the longest time. Andre is more fickle, with aspirations that have included a truck driver, a fire fighter, a badminton player, a chef and the latest one - a computer games developer (I approve of the last one, especially since he has promised me free games!)

What I tell them is that it's nice to have an idea of what they like to do, but not to let it limit their ambitions. You see, kids are exposed to just a tiny circle of occupations compared to what's out there, not to mention jobs that haven't even been created yet. Asking them to have defined a "dream career" at this stage is like asking someone what his favourite colour is when he only knows red, blue and yellow.

If you ask me, I would say it's not important at all for kids to know what they want to be when they grow up. It's more important to expose them to as many experiences as possible, so that they may form their own preferences and opinions about what they enjoy doing. Armed with knowledge and information, they will be able to make wiser choices about their careers. There's plenty of time for that.

Incidentally, don't you think it's interesting that kids always choose an occupation where their passion lies, whereas adults often don't? Somewhere along the line, passion takes a back seat to other considerations like money and status, so much so that it sometimes becomes totally disregarded. I'm not suggesting you can throw pragmatics out the window, that would be unrealistic. But since we're discussing practicality, I'm sure many of you would agree that you won't be very happy or motivated in a job that you have absolutely no interest in, no matter how much it pays you.

Following this argument, I feel that too many parents hijack their children’s dreams for "pragmatic" reasons. I have a friend who became a doctor because her parents were doctors and practically forced her into medical school, even though she desperately wanted to be a lawyer. Being the only child, she dutifully followed her parents' wishes and became a doctor, but I feel so sorry for her that she has been denied the chance to forge her own path.

To me, as long as the chosen profession is legal, ethical and realistic, we parents should respect it. When I say realistic, I mean choosing it for the right reasons. (At one point, Andre wanted to be a police officer because he thought it might be cool to carry a gun. No, no, no.) As much as we may be disappointed with our children's choices, we need to recognise that they are their own individuals, not projections of us. That's not to say we can't guide them in their choices, but it's not fair to ask them to live our dreams at the expense of their own.

So my advice to my kids? You can be anything you want, as long as you work at it. And you don't even have to know what it is yet.


Anonymous said...

Que Sera Sera, what ever will be will be...the future's not for us to see/say...que sera sera... you know my take now. :)

I agree important for parents to support their interest and they will drive their ultimate destination. Like you said perhaps there are future jobs unknown now like space vehicle designers or space architect etc? LOL


breve1970 said...

Guess what is Hayley's ambition, Monica? To be a 'MUM'!

Initially, I thought it was a joke and laughed out loud. But in all seriousness, she said that she wants to be a mum who chills out with her kids and not a mum (like me) who sends her kids for intervention classes. Am as guilty as anything... :p

Not bad for a 6 year old, I reckon. Haha! I do think that its a noble ambition afterall!

monlim said...

QX: Space vehicle designers? Cool! Maybe the qualification required would be an A grade in lego! LOL

Ann: Your little girl is wise beyond her years! She knows what's really important lah. And I'm sure it's because you made a great impact (positively I mean) on her :)

Lilian said...

Brian's ambition since he was 6 has changed from doctor to chess teacher to chess Grandmaster to mathematician to lawyer to guitarist to singer...I imagine his aspirations will continue to morph in the years to come.

As for Sean, his ambition isn't as lofty, he wants to be a tortoise caretaker.

I remember when I first asked Sean what he wanted to be when he grows up, he replied, "an adult". hee hee.

Elan said...

One of my sons wants to be a colorectal surgeon! He has this obsession with disgusting bodily emissions and thinks that will be the perfect job!!! Hey, someone's got to do the dirty work, right? At least he thought of surgeon and not toilet cleaner....
Another son wants to be a vet but shies away from over-friendly dogs....I think he has been reading too many vet books and is not really cut out to be a vet.I'm just going to let him realise this himself.
I was "forced" to go to medical school by my parents when I really wanted to be a writer. However, I truly enjoy what I am doing now. So it;s not always bad to push your kids in a certain direction if you think that you can see something in them that would blossom into a love for a certain career, but only if that is the case and not if its for your own prestige or to fulfill your own dreams.


Anonymous said...

I remember watching this news report last year, where a kindergarten was trying to instill entrepreneurship skills to the children, and the proud principal was expounding on the programme. They had turn the classroom into a restaurant where kids took roles such as a cashier, waiter, manager, etc and the parents were the customers. The news reporter then turn to a child and asked him what he wants to be when he grows up. And the kid said proudly "When I grow up, I want to be a waiter!". I burst out laughing, almost choking on my coffee. Err..wonder what his parents must have thought, and the principal's reaction.


monlim said...

Lilian: Sean's comment is classic! I'm pretty sure whatever he chooses, it will be more unconventional compared to Brian's.

Elan: Colorectal surgeon!!! Wow, that's pretty unusual but you're right, someone has to do it!

T: LOL @ waiter! That was probably not the intention, ya think?

Hsien said...

I think my husband and I are good examples of working at jobs that we couldn't even have imagined doing even in college! Marv is an airline exec and I'm working in social media. Social media didn't even exist until about 5 years ago. Hopefully it won't disappear in the next 5 but by then I probably will have moved on anyway. I think the key elements to success now appear to be flexibility, adaptability, and unconventionality.

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