We Don’t Know What We’re Raising Them For

Image Source: Thinkstock
Image Source: Thinkstock

It’s a question we all ask young children at one time or another: “What do you want to be when you grow up?”

And each time, we laugh at their innocent responses.

The Tooth Fairy!
A unicorn!
A merman!

But one day, these little dreamers with wild and rich imaginations will turn into teenagers, who are closer to college and careers than diapers and nap times. And suddenly, that once simple question, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” becomes serious. Plans must be made, applications sent out, courses of study explored.

But what if the question has become irrelevant? I don’t mean in the cynical sense, that the younger generations are hopelessly immature and will never grow up or move out of our basements. I mean in the sense that the very question itself seems to demand a singular answer, and more and more, we are raising children in a world that doesn’t fit this framework.

Not everyone will grow up to become a firefighter or a teacher or a politician, and then keep that position for life. Recently, The Atlantic published an article titled, “Millennials in Search of a Different Kind of Career,” in which 30-year-old George Dimoulas, and others, gave a glimpse into a shift that’s been going on for some time in the work force.

“Most people that I know see a job as what my friend would call a ‘transient phenomenon,'” said Dimoulas. “You work for some years at something, but it’s really just a job. In two to five years you end up moving on.”

When we ask our kids what they want to be when they grow up … we are also asking ourselves a question: ‘What do we want to prepare our kids for?’
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And it isn’t just this temporary attitude toward transient jobs that makes it difficult to prepare for the future, either — it’s that the entire work world is changing so rapidly. Jobs that used to be considered solid lifetime career options are now at risk of disappearing, and new jobs with skills that were unheard of a decade ago pop up with increasing frequency.

When we ask our kids what they want to be when they grow up — when we pay attention to the activities that draw our kids in and where their innate talents and interest lie — we are also asking ourselves a question:

“What do we want to prepare our kids for?”

What skills should we nurture in order to best raise this child to succeed in the world today and in fifteen, twenty, thirty years?

I could make a list of all the techie things our kids should learn: Web design, app creation, foodie suggestions … but I don’t even know what is relevant right now. Honestly, I have no clue what specific skills they’ll need to be employable in 10 years.

So instead, I give you some skills every generation should learn. Skills that should (hopefully) make them employable, no matter what the working world looks like when the time comes for them to enter it. We can teach these skills by intentionally instilling them into our children, but perhaps more importantly, by modeling them ourselves.


Never stop asking questions, being eager to learn, and engaging in the world around you. Be ready to learn a new skill; don’t settle. Be able to admit that you don’t know something, and then be ready to problem solve. Pay attention and adapt accordingly. Become an expert in what you love, but one with an open mind, ready to explore and experience.


Follow your convictions, be unique, love boldly, and indiscriminately. This means acting creatively – recognizing your curiosity and following it even if you are the only one doing so. When you are afraid of the risks you need to take, acknowledge the fear and do it anyway.


Be an involved, compassionate member of a meaningful community. Learn how to navigate diversity, conflict, success, and failure while in authentic relationships. Develop an awareness of the valuable lives and experiences of others. Treat people in all positions with dignity and respect.

I don’t yet know what my children will “become” in terms of their career options. But my hope is that they become adults who consistently exhibit curiosity, courage, and compassion, and take that with them wherever they go.

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Article Posted 4 years Ago

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