An alternative to “what do you want to be when you grow up?”

“What would you do if money were no object?”

The philosopher Alan Watts used to ask this question to students would told him how they have no idea about what they ought to do for a living. I find it to be an excellent alternative to what we normally ask kids: “What you you want to be when you grow up?”

The problem with the latter is that is has the phrase “grow up”. Those two words pollute the question. Instead of thinking about what they truly enjoy, they are likely to look at the grown ups around them and ask themselves which of those people they wish to emulate. And that leads to two pitfalls.

Firstly, grown ups are at least a couple of decades ahead of the children who seek to emulate them. Therefore, their careers and world-view is already outdated by the time the kids grow up

Secondly,  grown-ups are preoccupied with furthering their own careers and making ends meet – the careers that they, in-turn, inherited from their grown-up advisors. Therefore, they  inevitably lead youngsters down a path that is the safest bet to put money on the table based on their present reality.

Of course, making enough money is important. But it doesn’t have the same relevance to a child picking a line of interest, as it does to the grown-up who advises her. We are talking about interest that is innate here – not interest that banks collect. And as grown-ups, we have a conflict of interest here.

The genius behind Watts’ question is that it deliberately removes money from the picture. If that were the case, what you would willingly do with your time? All of it? If you answer that question early enough in your life, along the way you will find out how you can make it pay the bills.

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