Forget them! What Do YOU Want to Be When You Grow Up?

Today’s article is entitled “The Creative Monopoly.” It was written by David Brooks and published in the New York Times on April 23rd and can be found here.

This article talks about Peter Thiel, who founded PayPal and was an early investor in Facebook. In the article, Mr. Brooks explains that Peter Thiel was a highly successful student when he was younger, working his way through Stanford and Stanford Law School, only failing to meet his ambitions when he applied to be a Supreme Court clerk.

Mr. Brooks posits that this failure to succeed in one, traditional, competitive endeavor, led Thiel to think more creatively about what he might be able to accomplish in life. Obviously, as the founder of PayPal, Peter Thiel went on to become a highly successful businessman after overcoming that initial disappointment.

This opinion piece questions the value of societal pressures to pursue traditional professions encouraged by the US educational system and American culture. I like Mr. Brook’s hypothesis that we need more people to think outside the traditional “box” portrayed by most Universities in this country.

Students should be encouraged to think critically and creatively about their personal interests and how they would like to contribute to society, without feeling the need to bow to the immense pressure to conform to other’s expectations. And I agree that people who find a way to do this tend to be more successful and can make a significant contribution to society, sometimes in completely unexpected ways.

I do think, however, that the financial barriers are prohibitively high for most people to be able to even consider doing such a thing. How many of us could really denounce the traditional paths laid out for us throughout our education, to do something completely different and unique?

I admire the people in my life who have done this – the people in my high school who went on to become actors or to produce tv shows and movies or to conduct on Broadway. And one friend from my conservative college started his own gourmet peanut butter and jelly stand in a mall. It can take real courage to take a risk to do what truly inspires you. It is not the easy path. Sometimes I regret the fact that I have barely considered taking a risk like that. Do you?

Some Questions for Discussion: How do you think young people could be encouraged to think more about untraditional professions? How could we expose students to a wider variety of career paths? Do you feel that you were encouraged to walk away from traditional expectations and forge your own path? And did you learn any lessons from taking the path less travelled? Do you have any suggestions for people who are looking for financial support to pursue their dreams? Why do you think that people so easily give in to societal pressures when establishing their professional goals? Is there a role that parents or the government can play to help reduce the pressures to conform to traditional expectations? Are you a parent that has tried to expose your children to a number of different potential life paths? Do you have any suggestions for other parents trying to do the same?

What would you like to be or do if you could walk away from your current work? And do you think you will ever do that?

Please join the conversation. And thank so much for reading!


Filed under Career Planning, Education, Parenting, Youth Leadership

59 responses to “Forget them! What Do YOU Want to Be When You Grow Up?

  1. Alison Warner

    Love this! As you know, I’m going to be 40 this summer and only recently decided what I want to be “when I grow up.” I’ve started my own business as a Professional Organizer because it’s what I do well and what gives me something back in return. I love leaving a job and knowing that I made someone’s life better. It took me a long time to learn this, but now I understand that you need to have that spark that comes from doing what you love to be successful. It may not make you rich in the bank, but it sure makes waking up everyday a little bit sweeter!

  2. Hi Ali! Thank you so much for commenting! I was thinking about you as I wrote this one. I am so happy for you that you have figured ooutt what you want to do and are going for it! I really admire that. So often, momentum seems to keep people, including me, from doing that. Were you nervous to take the plunge?

  3. I would say I currently have the whole life on auto-pilot according to society’s expectations. I got straight A’s through high school, participated in all the extra-curricular activities, filled my resume to the brim, scored high on the bubble tests, got scholarships, worked through college to have experience when I came out, graduated with high scores and soon found work within my interests. I have learned a ton and enjoyed most of it.
    But sometimes I ask myself if this isn’t just what society wanted for me, more than what I wanted for myself. So I have searched within myself and found even more things that I truly enjoy doing; wheeling and dealing (like our rental business), our backyard chickens and more creative things like our website. I’ve also always wanted to travel in-depth (rather than just the cursory vacations) and live in other countries. (We are about to embark on that journey to live in Puerto Rico soon!)
    But I’ve found it takes a lot of guts to step out of the box that is so prescribed, especially when you see some degree of success from towing the line. And sometimes I think about all the people who never even had the chance to try the traditional path (and would love to trade places with you!). I feel blessed with the opportunities I have had in my life, but sometimes I think conforming to the traditional “path of success” (school, career, mortgage, debt, marriage, family, etc) can ultimately be unfulfilling because it is so “standard” and does not fully take into account an individual’s talents or interests except insomuch as they plug into the system.
    I recommend you see the movie “Surfwise” about a family in the 60’s who decides to forego all traditional schooling and just travel around in a van surfing. Some of the kids who are grown now really wish they had had a more traditional childhood, but all of them turned out to be so much more creative in their career pursuits than the “bricks in the wall/worker bees” that the traditional society seems to churn out. I often wonder how much of our own spirit and spunk is beaten out of us when we try to fit into the prescribed boxes of society. Thanks for the thought-provoking post! 

  4. Thanks for the thoughtful comment, Cassie. That is exactly what I am talking about. The traditional path can be the easy path and it can lead to a lot of positive outcomes. I have a love-hate relationship with policy work. I am good at it and oppotunities frequently arise for me to work in that arena, but what else might I be good at? It does seem that as we get older, many of us are starting to think more about what we would really like to do, regardless of social expectations and pressures. Maybe that is because we are also finally at an income level that gives us more flexibility and that allows us to think more creatively about what we might want to do. I love following your personal journey to really go after your dreams on your blog. Hopefully, someday, Carlos and I will finally do the same! Thanks SO much for commenting. You know how much that means to a new blogger…;-)

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