Exploring What You Want to Be When You 'Grow Up' At Any Age

Jan 15, 2019

'What do you want to be when you grow up?' A question heard frequently in childhood, most will respond with dream careers of firemen, astronauts, ballerinas, or world famous athletes. As children enter adolescence and adulthood, their answers often shift. Michael Bordieri, MSU professor of psychology, visits Sounds Good to discuss the importance of continuing to evaluate that question no matter how old you are. 

Although the age-old question of 'who you want to be when you grow up' is often reserved for those considered to be 'not grown up,' Michael Bordieri emphasizes the importance of assessing goals and values for greater psychological health and overall happiness. "The question of who you want to be in the world is one that is really quite of interest to psychologists," Bordieri explains. "It turns out, there really is a science to valuing - asking people what they care about, and helping them find ways to connect to what they care about, makes a difference psychologically. People who can write about their values and plan their lives around them in that way tend to be happier and more engaged in the world they live in."

Bordieri states that a major problem with an adult perspective when assessing values, is that "especially in our current world, we think about outcomes. We think about who we want to be as a destination to 'get.' Rarely do we talk about the process, the small but meaningful things that happen on a day by day basis, that often are more connected with these positive psychological benefits." Rather than viewing goals as finite landing place, it proves to be more beneficial to consider goals and values as points on a neverending trajectory. This can be within the context of a career, financial success, education, or even personal relationships. "If you look at couples who have long, successful relationships and marriages," Bordieri says, "one of the qualities there is that love is an ongoing process."

Another hindrance when evaluating lifelong goals or values is the assumption that a person only needs to value what society has told them they should. "It's really easy to talk about what you should care about [or] what others say. The types of things that when you're a little kid and you're at the table, and relatives ask you what you want to be or how you're doing, there's a 'right' answer to that," Bordieri says. "Sometimes helping people let go of what they should care about or what they should be about, and really giving them that space and that freedom to really say 'who do they want to be,' can be important."

"One thing we can think about in terms of values, is thinking of them more as compass headings, as directions on the maps," Bordieri explains. "If you care about being a loving person or supporting your family, or you care about curiosity and knowledge and learning more about your world, you never get there. It's a place you're moving. There might be some milestones along the way that help you know you're on track, but we're really cultivating a more general sense of how you're going to approach the world each day, and not something you're ever going to 'achieve' and be done with."