The Question: What Are You Going to Be When You Grow Up?

“What are you going to be when you grow up?”

When my children are asked this question — and they often are — I have taught them that they do NOT have to answer.

Am I rude? I don’t think so.

I think it’s the question itself that’s out of place.

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Think about it.

How do kids usually answer this question?  I think I used to pick chemist as my acceptable answer. My College Algebra teacher’s laughing hysterically right now. At least now he knows I’m awake.

Most children answer by conjuring up a pre-packaged answer that will be acceptable to the questioner.

They think career. They think job. Without any thought as to their unique strengths or style.

But I don’t want my kids living — hoping — to be picked for a job. I want them living to become who their Creator wired them to be.

There is no box for that. Not yet. They each need to discover it.

Two Problems

I have two problems with the question:

  1. The use of what instead of who.  What implies that children should choose an option already constructed in which to fit their future. But the future demands change. Always. Looking back to the boxes of the previous generation never works. Not really a great fit? Just cram it in. At least the benefits package is good. Who is a person. A living, dynamic, eternal, and growing being always moving forward in a unique direction yet to be determined. The first seeks approval. The latter questions the edges of the box.
  2. The suggestion that they will somehow, someday arrive at a destination called “grown up.” Until then, they can wait to be picked. And get good grades. Because that’s what you do while you’re waiting to get “grown up.” But there is no button that get’s pushed at some magical age that signifies arrival. There is a life-long process of growth.  A path of discovery.

Of becoming.


Next time you enage a child, try asking this question instead:

Who are you becoming?

On second thought, let’s try it on ourselves first.  After all, we’re all grown up.

Aren’t we?

What do you think? Am I crazy to be so concerned about the words my children use? What answers would you give to this question? Leave a comment to help us all grow.

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  • Chip Hartzell

    I agree in substance with all you have said. Still, the scriptures indicate a difference between children and adults that is hard to ignore. Perhaps questions about dreams, ideas, heroes, and greatness would encourage a child to think about their future in more “adult” ways. As I teach teens I ask 4 questions. I’ve included my answers.
    1. Is there a God? (yes)
    2. Am I god? (no)
    3. Who am I? (I am a human created in God’s image)
    4. What do your answers mean for your life?
    The 4th question I cannot answer for anyone other than myself.
    Still, “who” is always more significant than “what.”

  • I agree! My husband is always saying that our culture has WAY too much focus on careers. Our careers should not define us. There is more to life than the job you have. And there is more to identity than a job description. We do need to teach our children this–but perhaps first ourselves? Excellent post.