In this 45 minute podcast, four of the blogs are tied together with some other perspective to discuss the role of occupation in forming identity. It starts with the Work/Identity problem and moves through perspectives on identity through the economy, college, and school, with just a touch of politics.

Featuring voice talent of Jen, Adie, Huck, and Mason. End music TASM Lab’s “Demystified, disenchanted” sung by Michelle Graf.

“What do you want to be when you grow up?” is a question asked of children constantly. It’s a bit of a ridiculous question given that a six or twelve year old child can have little idea of what they will wish to do in ten years or so when they have a completely transformed view of the world over that time.
It’s also a bit silly because children, even college students, typically have a very limited view of what occupations are out there. From my armchair, I’d guess they know fewer than one percent of all available occupations. That’s why we might hear answers like “a doctor” or “a teacher” and never something like “EHS inspector for a palm oil production facility” or “collections specialist for a commercial security alarm installer.”

Intentional or not, the question itself might be a dicey proposition. We – that is, the adults or the institution or the culture – already begin suggesting to children that they will pick an occupation as a significant part of who they are when they grow up. The question isn’t “who” are you going to be, but instead “what” implying that you will be a thing, or more accurately, an occupation. This is evidenced by the fact that the expected answer is always an occupation.

Even if the child is noncommittal with their answer, the objective is set. The message is “you will be an occupation, that is what you will be.” And so sets the stage for school where failure to comply and complete school properly will result in a failure to get into college, and failure at college means failure in finding an occupation, which means the student will not “be” anything. The “what do you want to be” question sets the tone for a lifetime of occupational identity.

If we were to ask “who” they wanted to be instead of what, or maybe more openly asked what kind of person they see themselves being, we might get answers like “happy” or “smart” or “honest” or “giving”. We might get to hear about future interests and hobbies. We might hear about relationships or plans for families and friends. We might hear about potential accomplishments. We might hear about personal values.

And as adults, we could foster this conversation in new ways. We could explore different values, interests, behaviors, beliefs, worldviews, and all of the other good stuff that makes healthy, interesting identities that don’t simply rest on the occupation one uses to pay the bills. I think that would be pretty cool.