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When I grow up

Published January 30. 2010 09:00AM

"What do you want to be when you grow up?"

How many times were we asked that question as kids? It's kind of funny to remember some of our answers. I bet most of us haven't followed through on those childhood ambitions.

Of course, kids think big and have some pretty sophisticated career plans. We all had friends who had dreams of being a princess, or a cowboy, or a professional wrestler. As we get older, we have to get serious. There aren't too many degree programs out there for pro wrestlers. So with that hope dashed, it's time to move on to Plan B.

But here's the problem. The average person goes through a lot of phases in their lifetime. Just think of how many hobbies you or your spouse have picked up then abandoned in the last few years. Some people are like that with jobs. They try out a few, work in a bunch of places for a couple of weeks or months, then move on to something else. How are we supposed to settle on just one field?

The other problem is that we're encouraged to settle on one career by the time we get out of high school. It's hard to know what we'll want to be doing at 40 when we just turned 18. Having a history of working at a lot of places for only a short time doesn't make the resume look too good, either. A hiring manager might look at it and think, "This person seems flighty or unreliable. Will they stay past the first 90 days?" In our society, we have to pick something fast and stick with it.

Since 1979, the Bureau of Labor Statistics has been doing a study on how many jobs the typical American worker has held in their lifetime. In 2008 the study reported that most Baby Boomers (folks born between 1957 and 1964) have had an average of 10 jobs between the ages of 18 and 42.

The study defined a "job" as "a period of uninterrupted work with a particular employer." Changing jobs and changing careers are two different things. I've probably had 6 or 7 jobs since I've been old enough to work, yet since graduating from college (usually the time when a person's professional life officially starts) I've only worked in the nonprofit field. Starting a whole different career is a little more difficult than just getting a new job. There's usually more education involved and you have to go right back to entry-level and work your way up, just like you did at your last career.

How can we avoid landing in the "wrong" career in the first place? Most job and career experts agree that it's important to have a good handle on our interests, skills, and if we can see ourselves in a chosen field five years down the road.

Our parents are often our first career role models, but their professions may not be right for us. Lots of people try to go into the same fields as their parents, or resist it at first but wind up there eventually.

Unfortunately, it takes many of us years to find out what we want to be when we grow up. No matter what path we choose, it has to be something that we find rewarding and feel we can do well.

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