You know how often kids change their minds about what profession they might want to pursue as adults. In fact there are plenty of people who are still changing their minds as adults. So I don’t read anything too specific into it when my kids announce what they want to be when they “grow up”. On the other hand, the kinds of things they choose at various stages of their development can reveal interesting things about their personalities.
For example, the first time that my eldest son told us about his future career, he said that he wanted to be a soccer player and also a snake scientist in the off season. He then briefly considered being an astronaut, and has now settled on being a chef, signing up for highschool sources to take him in that direction, though he’s still building his credentials as a soccer referee as well, on the off chance that he might be able to make a living at it.
My middle son has always wanted to be a professional athlete of one kind or another. For most of his life this meant being a soccer player, but he’s recently switched sports to basketball. He sometimes talks about being a rapper or an actor on the side, but the core of his hopes and dreams (no matter how many friends and family try to temper his expectations) lies squarely in professional sports.
My youngest has never really expressed an idea of what he wants to be until just very recently. He’s only eight years old, so maybe that isn’t a huge surprise, but his older brothers were far younger than that when they first announced their intention to be professional athletes. In the event, it was an online movie clip that finally decided it for my youngest. We were watching some footage of a strange fish shot by an underwater welder, and he was far more interested in the fiery goings on that preceded the fish’s arrival. When he found out the he could make big bucks at the job, it was decided – he would be an underwater welder.
Like I said, I don’t know how likely it is that any of my children will achieve these goals. Being a chef is certainly within the realm of possibility, but it’s a difficult life, especially around a family. Being a professional basketball player is a dream available to such a few that even very talented athletes (and my kid is quite talented) never come close. And being an underwater welder seems an absurdly specific choice for a kid who’s only eight years old. But, whether or not my kids end up in these jobs, their choices say quite a lot about who they are.
My eldest likes activities where the standards are exacting, where it’s important to get things just right, whether a recipe or a decision in a game. He doesn’t need to be the one in the spotlight, but he likes to be the one with the power and responsibility to make sure that everything goes as it should. His dream is to own his own upscale ethnic-fusion restaurant, and that sums him up pretty well.
My middle son, on the other hand, wants the spotlight. He wants to be on the court or the stage or the screen in front of screaming fans. He wants the fame and the glory and the dollars. He wants the cameras on him as he shows off his expensive clothes, his cars, and his jewelry. He wants an entourage of guys who do his bidding and girls who hang on his arm. A professional athlete’s life is about the most wonderful thing he can imagine.
My youngest’s recent choice is no less revealing, a perfect fit for his personality, though I never would have imagined it myself. He loves to build – not to make art (though he does this too), but to build. He also loves to be on his own, to be left to do his thing apart from anyone else. The isolated work of fabricating underwater structures is almost a perfect metaphor of his personality.
Without quite knowing it, they’ve all gravitated toward potential careers that reflect their skills and personalities. So, when your kid comes to you and announces that she wants to be a surgeon, or that he wants to be a gymnast, maybe take some time to think about their choices. They may not stick with those decisions very long, but it may give you some insight into the people they are and how to support them on the kinds of paths that they might follow.
Luke Hill has been the parent of birth kids, adoptive kids, foster kids, and just-need-a-place-to-stay kids for fourteen years. He’s had experience with kids in homeschool, public schools, and alternative schools. He’s been a teacher, a camp counsellor, and a coach. He’s also taught parenting courses for Children’s Aid for almost a decade. When he isn’t working with kids, he’s a writer, a publisher, and the director of a non-profit organization that supports book culture.