When you grow up

Published 6:16 pm Tuesday, March 23, 2021

By Nathan Rice

It’s a question that we have all most likely been asked at some point in our lives. It’s also a question that we have most likely asked someone else. It’s that old childhood question, “What do you want to be when you grow up?”

I’ve heard a lot of different answers over the years. YouTube star, professional football player, and marine biologist are just a few of the replies that I have received when I asked young people that question.


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There’s nothing wrong with that question, and many people who ask it to children are merely trying to strike up a conversation or trying to learn more about the child. I would even say it’s a good question to ask. It allows kids to share their dreams, and it gives adults insight into a child’s current interests.

“What do you want to be when you grow up?” is a good question, but I have been wondering lately why we never ask children who they want to be when they grow up.

Perhaps this persistent question about children’s future careers stems from our culture’s obsession with job performance. We too often laud professional achievements more than we do the more important aspects in life, such as love, charity, kindness and goodness.

I’ve learned over the years that most childhood dreams regarding careers do not come true. There are exceptions, of course, but as children grow, they learn that very few people make it to the NFL and that becoming a YouTube star is harder than it appears. Add that to shifting interests as they mature, and most children will end up in a different career path than they shared in elementary school, middle school and even high school.

However, all children will develop a personality as they grow older, and they will all have to make decisions on how they will conduct themselves in everyday life. They are being shaped every day into who they will become more than they are into what they will become. The habits they form now often continue into adulthood.

Likewise, we are shaping children more into who they will become more than into what they will become. We can find a good coach for the aspiring football star or take the future marine biologist to the aquarium, but what they learn most from us is on how to live life.

The greatest lessons we will teach them are not different defense types for a football team or the various species of sea life. The greatest lessons are how to conduct themselves daily, support and love others, react when things go wrong, what to do when they are angry, and so many other things that they will face in adulthood no matter what career path they choose.

I am going to keep asking children what they want to be when they grow up. I will still do what I can to support them in their dreams, but I will also ask them who they want to be when they grow. I hope that second question allows me to guide them in the more important aspects of their development as well as in their career endeavors.

Nathan Rice is a Hampton Roads native and can be reached at nrice@abnb.org.