If you’re in high school, people have probably asked you, “What do you want to be after you graduate from college?” The result, if we’re honest, is a slight panic attack.
Do I tell them what I’d really like to do (and risk them laughing)? Do I let on that I’m not sure, and would like more time to think about it? It’s scary because it requires you, a teenager, to predict your future. And that’s scary.
So what if I told you that they asked the wrong question?
What if I told you that they ask it because it’s easier for them to ask than another question? And what if I told you that this harder question will actually be more rewarding to you?
It’s this harder question – harder for me as the questioner, not harder for you – that I want to ask:
Who do you want to be after you graduate from college?
You see, if I ask you what you want to be, I expect a rote, standard answer: “I want to be a lawyer,” or “I want to be an actor.” The result is, as the questioner, I can respond with the typical, “Huh, that’s interesting,” and leave. My part is done.
But if I ask who you want to be, I have no quick, rote response. I have to spend time as the questioner thinking, “What traits do I value most in this person that I hope they mention?” “What skills do I want them to grow in as they mature?” This demands more of the questioner, so people don’t ask it.
And yet this is perhaps the most important question you need to be asked in high school. “You are who you are becoming,” a friend of mine once told me, and unless you take time to consider who you are and what you are becoming, you will find yourself feeling afloat and meaningless in an age as chaotic as they come.
So when someone asks you what you want to be after college, stop them and rephrase the question: “Who do I want to be after college?” Then answer that question.
Do you want to be a person of moral integrity? A person with a strong work ethic that others find dependable? A sympathetic ear and an empathetic heart to those who are struggling? It may not be as glamorous as being a lawyer or an actor (though you may turn out to be one!), but you’ll sleep better, live better, and grow deeper than you can ever imagine because you know who you want to be.
I entered college thinking I wanted to be a lawyer. During my college years my interests changed. Had I only asked “what do I want to be” I would have been scared to graduate. But now I find myself starting my sixth year in an unplanned career, doing work that I love doing, and growing more and more into the man that I always wanted to be. And as a sojourner a few years further down the road from you, I’ll tell you this: it’s exciting. And I wouldn’t trade it for the world.
So who do you want to be?