What do you want to be when you grow up?

In year 9 at my high school, every student had a career counselling session. Trying to answer that age old question – “What do you want to be when you grow up?” When I think back on my answer to that question from a little girl all the way to 28 years old, I don’t think I’ve given the same answer twice. 

When I was in kindergarten, the teacher told my mum that my favourite activity was the ‘box construction’; making things out of recycling. She thought I might grow up to be an architect. 

When it came time for the ‘work experience’ in year 9, I had no idea what I wanted to be. I ended up going to a school and shadowing a teacher, because I thought I might like to be a teacher. I also did one of those aptitude tests and the highest recommendation was to be a diplomat! Second highest was a writer. At one stage I applied for the Australian navy, but got passed over due to my asthma.

At university, I still didn’t know what I wanted to do, so I did an Arts degree studying the subjects of most interest to me. That ended up with me completing Honours in Archaeology. 

So to summarise, growing up I thought I might be an architect, a teacher, a diplomat, in the Australian navy, an archaeologist and a writer. And here I am, working in the tech industry.

The reason I give you the grand history of what I wanted to be when I grew up, is because it highlights that things don’t always go to plan! Things change and more importantly, what you want and need can change. Don’t lock yourself into a particular career path just because it’s what you studied in university.

Technically I’m qualified to be an archeologist, and I ended up in literally the opposite field – technology. When I was growing up, it never occurred to me that I might be technically proficient or that I would make a great project manager. I just grew into those roles.

That’s not to say you shouldn’t go to uni and get a degree. I wouldn’t take back my archaeology degree as it’s something I remain passionate about to this day. But having a degree, any degree opened doors for me. It shows that you can learn.

A career counsellor told me in university something that has stuck with me to this day. I went to her because I was going through a bit of despair about my career aspirations. I realised during my Honours degree that I didn’t want to continue being an academic, because I found it to be too adversarial for me – I’m more of a team player.

I was upset because I thought that I might have wasted the last 4 years. Who was going to hire someone with an archaeology degree except archaeologists??

She told me that the facts that I learnt in my degree aren’t necessarily the most important thing on the resume. It’s more about the skills that I learnt. For example, it demonstrates that I’m a great researcher. I wrote a 15,000 word thesis, which demonstrates the ability to write in a professional manner. The problem with my degree was not that it was too specific, it was that it was too broad. People with an accounting degree can apply to be accountants. Someone with an Arts degree can apply to be just about anything. 

So I applied to work at lots of different places until I got my foot in the door. And here I am today, a project manager. I don’t necessarily lean on my archaeology knowledge every day, but I do lean into the skills I learnt – research, organisation, writing, presentation. As a bonus, I make a great partner on trivia nights during the history questions.

To the question, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” I’m still not sure that I know my answer. You will most likely shift gears multiple times in your career and I’m sure I’ll be no exception. What I do know is that I love what I’m doing now.

I think the question also implies that your career will be linear and that once you reach a certain title, there is no more room to change or grow. Like once you’re a lawyer with a job, you’ve made it and there’s no room for you to explore further.

So maybe to better answer the question, ask yourself, “What do I love doing?” That will help point you in the right direction for your next career move.

Next week I’ll share a post about what to do if you’ve decided that you don’t love what you’re doing and want to shift industries. Please comment below your story if you’ve changed gears throughout your career!

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