Advantage Career Solutions
Richard Phillips, Career Counselor and Coach
Every individual has a place to fill in the world, whether they choose to do so or not.
- Nathanial Hawthorne

What Do You Want To Be When You Grow Up?


A red-tailed hawk soars silently over the forested slopes that stretch west toward the Pacific Ocean, scanning the ground for any movement that would indicate a possible meal. Behind it to the east is a valley filled with people who are also engaged in the pursuit of their next "meal." The physical features of the hawk give it very little choice in the way it hunts. Its heavy body and large wings limit its hunting to areas of strong up drafts that allow it to soar over open ground. Because of its physical and mental restrictions, it never asks, "What do I want to be one I grow up?" It has only one possible path to follow and it must follow this single path or it will not survive.

"What do I want to be when I grow up?" is a uniquely human question because the human species has been gifted with a wider range of potential behaviors and cognitive abilities than any other. Our abilities can be combined in a multitude of ways to achieve results hawks would never dream of. In fact, if "What do I want to be one I grow up?" is asked by someone in the United States, there are approximately 12,000 different answers, at least according to the US Department of Labor which lists that many individual job categories in its Dictionary of Occupational Titles.

With so many choices, it is no wonder that many people who call to inquire about my career counseling services, begin the conversation by saying "I'm calling because I don't know what I want to be when I grow up." Even though they have reached physical in adulthood, they sense that something is missing that defines true human "grownupness." For an animal, such as our red-tailed hawk, a "grownup" can be defined simply by its ability to meet the two criteria of being able to hunt for itself and the ability to mate and produce offspring. The same two criteria also apply to human beings. We also define being grownup as the ability to provide food, clothing, shelter and cable television for ourselves. And we also define adulthood by sexual maturity - the ability to reproduce, although we physically reach this stage before we are really ready to shoulder the responsibility of feeding ourselves, let alone a dependent.

For hawks, the process of growing up is relatively simple because it doesn't involve having to make any choices. This is also true for some human cultures. In these cultures, the need for survival dictates a rigid answer to the question "What do I want to be when I grow up?" There are not a multitude of answers. The answer may well be, "You will grow up to be a great hunter, my son. And you will marry a woman who is a great gatherer. And thus, you will survive."

At one time in history, all humans?had pretty much the same career options. Depending on the local conditions, the choices were hunter, gatherer, farmer, or some combination of the three. In some cultures, those are still the choices. But even in such cultures, rather inappropriately called "primitive", there is present the drive to go beyond mere survival and reproduction to express something uniquely human. Abraham Maslow illustrated this human characteristic with his hierarchy of needs model. At the base level, the fundamental need is survival - the human equivalent of finding enough mice, snakes and ground squirrels to keep the body functioning. In fact, in some cultures, hawks and humans dine on pretty much the same bill-of-fare. Maslow showed, however, that once we've gorged ourselves on the human equivalent of "mouse McNuggets", we begin to ask ourselves bigger questions than "Should I boil or fry the mice tonight?" And this is often when we discover that we don't feel we are truly grownup yet.

When people call me and say they don't know what they want to be when they grow up, they aren't usually referring to the aspect of "grownupness" that has to do with survival. Often, they've been very successful at "surviving", and they have all the latest toys to prove it. But even when putting food on the table is a primary concern, they want to do it through work that makes them feel they are truly "grownup."

How does it feel when we are truly grown up? First, when we are performing our true grown up work, we get enjoyment from the tasks themselves, performed for their own sake, and not for the result that will follow. It is the difference between preparing food because we enjoy the task of preparation, rather than just because we have to eat. The second dimension of true grown up work is how we view the results of our efforts. When we look upon the finished meal, the completed spreadsheet, whatever it is that is the tangible demonstration of our skills, how do we feel? Do we look with satisfaction - the feeling of contentment and completeness - and say "Yes, my work is the successful expression of my skills used to do what the task demanded of me."?

When people call me up and say they want to do "grown up" work, they are acknowledging the need to feel enjoyment while doing the work and have satisfaction when the results are achieved. Their first challenge is to discover what specific skills and interests they most enjoy developing and using. The second challenge is to find the avenue by which they can use these talents in the world in a productive way. When they've met those two challenges, they've answered the question "What do I want to do when I grow up?"


I offer a free 30 minute telephone session to help you get started toward solving your career challenges - such as getting what you really want. The session is an opportunity for you to talk with a professional counselor and coach about what you want from your career or job and to get some initial feedback on what some solutions might be. It is also gives you the chance to experience my counseling style to see if I'm someone you'd like to have help you.

Interested? Just click Getting Started to get some details of what to expect and how to prepare.