Every kid is faced with the same question: What do you want to do when you grow up? They get asked about it countless times. And if you’re like me when I was growing up, I gave different answers almost every time. Underneath my answers was always a subconscious plea I never knew how to verbalize: Would you help me figure it out?
Most kids aren’t confused about their future because there aren’t enough options. On the contrary, they don’t have an answer because they don’t know how to narrow it down. It’s quite literally the curse of options, and it leaves them paralyzed or confounded.
Along the way to adulthood, kids are given vague ideas for how to discern their future path, especially relating to their career choices. If the research folks at Gallup are even close to accurate, most people end up making career choices they regret and end up feeling disengaged, unfulfilled, and lost. The question is, what were the mistakes they made along the way?
One of the most common mistakes people make in planning their future careers is listening to external voices rather than their own. In other words, extrinsic motivation instead of intrinsic.
In the big picture, according to the Self-Determination Theory (SDT), one of the core drivers of human behavior, a fundamental need, is autonomy. People inherently thrive when they perceive their choices as being driven by themselves instead of coerced or expected from others. On the flip side, people shrivel, fall short of their potential, and generally experience less happiness when they feel like their actions are predetermined or expected.
Dozens of films and stories play against that theme. It’s the ne-er-do-well son who falls far short of daddy’s expectations or abilities.
If you listen to external voices as your predominant filter for decision-making, research shows you will not only be less fulfilled than you could be but also achieve less than your potential. People who tap into an internal drive are happier and more successful. Full stop.
Listening to people’s input is a healthy exercise. But listening without filtering, considering, mulling over, or reflecting will lead you down the wrong path.
So, we return to the question: What do YOU want to do with your life?
For years we’ve been studying what a young person needs in order to transition into a healthy, thriving adulthood.
They're uncommon sense ideas, really.
Download this checklist and use it with your students (or kids).