My daughter Cass is traveling the country with a cat named Juan and a chicken named Vanna. I could blame Neil Gaiman, but it’s probably my fault.
Here’s what I think happened. Over the years, I would frequently ask my daughters the question, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” We would then talk about how they can be anything and many things, even all at once. And how they could change their minds along the way. It was a question that would inspire smiles, sometimes giggles, and I enjoyed how the answers changed over the years. Physical therapist. Astronomer. Teacher (where’d they get THAT idea?). One of my favorite responses from my youngest daughter, Heather, was “Scooby Doo.”
One day, however, my daughter Cass gave this answer: “Neil Gaiman.” That was the one she finally stuck with into adulthood. It reflects her varied interests and creative pursuits. She saw a video of Neil advising aspiring writers to go live life, so Cass is on the go, working various jobs and having adventures. And writing. And hopefully meeting Neil at an upcoming event.
Cass is what Emilie Wapnick would call a multipotentialite – someone with varied interests and creative pursuits. Emilie recently gave a TED Talk on multipotentialities where she explained that “the problem wasn’t that I didn’t have any interests — it’s that I had too many.” She described anxiety of the question, what do you want to be when you grow up (oops – sorry kids!). However, she explains that this way of being doesn’t have to be a bad thing just because it doesn’t align with our current culture’s ideal of having one single true purpose.
It might even be in line with a reality that’s been around since the Baby Boomers who, per the USBLS, have held on average over 11 jobs in their lifetimes. Now the number of careers – not just jobs, but careers – is reaching the same level in our dynamic society. I know of people who have stayed in the same career so long that they found themselves among the long-term unemployed because their field of expertise or way of doing things disappeared. Brian Fippinger of Q4 Consulting echoes this observation, and offers some great advice in his article The Job of a Lifetime No Longer Lasts a Lifetime.
The bottom line is that it is more important than ever to prepare students to be lifelong learners. Being curious, exploring new pathways, and building a diverse resume can be a strategy for our modern world. And when you ask them that question – as many of you will – use it as an opportunity to also discuss how life is really an adventure with lots of bends and forks in the road.
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Pictures of Cass