What Should I Do with my Life, Who Should I Be When I Grow Up? Or.. Why Didn’t You Become YOU?

When you die and go to heaven our maker is not going to ask, ‘why didn’t you discover the cure for such and such? Why didn’t you become the Messiah? The only question we’ll be asked in that precious moment is ‘why didn’t you become you? – Elie Wiesel.

(This is a post and artwork by multi-passionate Jo Bradshaw of Minestrone Soul).

What do you want to be when you grow up? 

An innocent little question, isn’t it.

But it’s one that doesn’t sit well with me. 

I see my seven-year-old already battling with all the future incarnations of herself. ‘Perhaps I’ll be a ballet dancer. But I might want to be a florist. Or a doctor. Actually: I really want to be an acrobat. Oh, and an artist.’

My daughter has a wonderful book called You Choose by Nick Sharratt and Pippa Goodhart. It says ‘if you could do anything, what would you do?’ On the careers page, there are cartoons of 50 different occupations. There are gloriously zany castles, fantasy beds, frivolous feasts and wacky ways to travel.

We leaf through the pages together.

She chooses to be an artist on mondays, a florist on tuesdays, and a doctor on wednesdays…… and I concur and make my own choices.

Perhaps I’ll be an artist on mondays too so we can hang out together, but then I think I’ll be a cook on tuesdays and a scientist on wednesdays.

And yet, well-meaning adults ask her ‘what do you want to be?’ as if somehow, just being herself wasn’t already good enough.

I know how acutely she juggles all the possibilities that others have shown her, as if on a smorgasbord where you can see everything but you only get to choose one course. I understand. When I was seven, I wanted to be an artist-writer-actress-potter-scientist-gymnast-sweetshopowner.

I saw no reason why I shouldn’t be all of those things because that belief – that I didn’t have to choose – hadn’t yet been peeled away from me. I’ve spent my whole life fighting the push to choose.  

What if.

What if you didn’t have to choose, my love.

What if you could be anything you wanted to be, and well-meaning friends and teachers stopped forcing you into boxes before you even brushed the edges of responsibility. 

What if the careers teacher stuck everything she’s learned about sorting and labelling and processing and influencing youngsters – stuck it all up her whatsit. And went out and breathed in an excited kind of air. One tingling and alive with possibility. One in which you are dancing. Laughing.

You are amazing. 

You are you. You already areYou don’t need to be anything but you.

I’ll tell you what I think. I think we are all born pretty darn pure and glowing and brimming with possibilities. I think that our schooling and society seeks to chip the edges off until we are safe enough to fit in, and be a good and trustworthy cog in the great big machine that is modern business.

But from where I’m standing, that model is starting to look seriously geriatric. Like a blip on the vast landscape of human enlightenment. 

If you’re a multi passionate multi-skilled renaissance soul – what Tia affectionately calls a Sparklerand what I call a minestrone soul (see: we don’t even have to choose a single term to unite us!) –  then step up. Now is your time. 

Choose to be you.

Choose to shine and to glow all your different colours. Can you forge your own path using all your talents?


You may need support, inspiration and sometimes even a kind of internal permission to do so, but hell yeah.

You CAN.

And the burning question? Think back to when you were seven years old. What did you want to be when you grew up, before you became who you are today? Let us know in the comments below, won’t you. Thanks in advance for sharing this post!

Jo Bradshaw is a multipassionate minestrone soul whose mission is to help others get out of the gloop of overwhelm and scatter and make their gifts really shine.

Jo is a brand designer, dot-joiner, copywriter and illustrator who also loves eco building, cooking and gardening. Find out more at www.minestronesoul.com or follow Jo on twitter: @minestronesoul.


Wanna figure out what to do with your life and be more YOU? Check out SPARKLE FLIGHT CLUB.

30 day purpose + passion + inner self + gratitude journey in an online community experience. Starts October 1st. CLICK FOR DEETS + TO SIGN UP.


Facebook comments:



  1. says

    Me – I wanted to be a mom, a teacher, and an author. And as I say on my about page here, I’m all that just not in the way I imagined (yet)! I’m a real nurturer and very maternal, I teach by example, and I blog! Ha! And of course in the past I have done everything from surveys on a boat to career counselling to massage therapy to investments to advertising, lol. Loved the post Jo, thanks so much, looking forward to the next one! xo, Tia.

    • says

      And the really lovely thing Tia, is that now you are using your breadth of life and work skills and experiences in a very nurturing way as a coach and teacher, so far from all these seemingly unrelated fields representing scatter and disconnect, they are actually a powerful way of distilling a kind of real-life wisdom into empathy, connection and progress for all your readers and clients.

      So, as I make my own journey of discovery in sparkledom, I’m realising that those of us who are drawn to rainbow career paths are put here to do that vital boundary-dissolving work, and it’s when we start to really feel comfortable in our own skin that we can gather these experiences and competencies and channel them into being of service to others : )

      • says

        Rainbow career paths.. OMG I LOVE that!!! And SO true … ALL our life experiences come together to further our purpose in life. What a delicious reply, I’ll be re-reading it a couple of times to really soak it in. Thanks Sparklepants!

  2. says

    From a reader on the Facebook page:

    Jim Szulc says:

    Nice article, thanks for sharing. Made a lot of nice points, many of which I could relate to. As a kid, I had a lot of different things I wanted to be too. Mostly sports related, baseball and football player, golfer, bowler.

    Also wanted to become an actor, a writer, a DJ, and an astronaut. I carried my childhood wishes into adulthood and, except for being an astronaut, I’ve done all of these things to some extent. Still doing some, retired from others, but the opportunity for new challenges is always right around the corner, and I never shy away from trying or learning about new things.

    I actually think I caught a break in life because at one point, I threw all my eggs in one basket and was dead set on becoming a baseball player. Worked at it, studied it, ate, drank and breathed it, 24/7. All my vacation time was spent going to tryouts in the summer, and this went on for a few years. Then, for whatever reason, other things started pulling at me, reminding me that I was good at them too at one time, and that they were now ready to come down off the shelf and get put back into the mix.

    And, though I continued to follow my dream of becoming a baseball player, one by one, my other passions in life resurfaced into my regular routine, and being able to do them all again seemed to make more sense than not doing them at all. I never did become the baseball player I always dreamt I would be. But I did get to travel the country playing softball and bowling in tournaments. I got back up onstage acting in plays and joining a comedy troupe, where I was lucky enough to be able to write and act in some of my own material.

    I still DJ part time, but I had my own karaoke show for a few years, and most of that was me singing because that’s what the customers wanted, instead of themselves coming up and singing. I got to play in a football league with some friends for a couple of years, and I am still an avid golfer, still learning everything I can about the game and still in love with it after all these years.

    I am currently writing screenplays, plays, poetry, lyrics, and short stories, with the hopes of becoming a full time writer. And somewhere along the way, I have a dream of building my own boat and sailing off the shores of the Atlantic. The trick to all of that is that I’ve never put myself in one box and stayed there.

    Some people do, and they’re comfortable doing that, and there are days when I could be more like them. But then, that would make me less of who I really am. I tried that once and it didn’t work for me. I’m more comfortable in my shoes trying to learn and be good at everything that I can while I’m still able to.

    Yes, I’m going to fail from time to time. But…to really live your life, to get the most out of it, you have to be true to yourself and who you are, set your fears aside, and just go for it. Follow your passion or passions, accept and learn from the defeats that are a part of the process, and live the life that is most meaningful to yourself.

    Let the dreams of your childhood help guide you in your adult life, and you will always remain young at heart.

    • says

      JIm, I love how you emphasis accepting defeats as part of the learning process. So many of us who pick up new interests with alacrity also find it hard to deal with feeling like a failure at something. You’ve had an amazing life so far, and it sounds so joyful!

      Think that we could all learn something from talking to six and seven year-olds. I love how seriously they evaluate whether being an astronaut would fit in with the floristry, and just don’t have that nagging doubt monster that seems to jump on our shoulders and pull us back into smallness.

      • Jim Szulc says

        Thank you Jo! You’re right, it’s been an extraordinary ride up to now, and I’m of the opinion that the best of it is still yet to come! There is a process to setting and reaching your goals, and accepting and learning from your defeats along the way is a part of it. The only time you ever truly fail is when you let those defeats or setbacks keep you from moving forward and striving for what you want to become. I never gave myself a timetable with baseball. It was just, at 28, the writing was pretty much on the wall and it was time to move on and take on other challenges, while appreciating the fact that I DID give it my all and, for whatever reason, it just didn’t happen. The effort, if not the result I wanted, was there. I can live with that. And my big thing with kids and young adults is to a) provide the example by going out and following my dreams, no matter what and b) encouraging them to do the same and helping them in any way that I can with the knowledge that I’ve gained over the years. I’ve had some great teachers over the years, and as I grow older, I realize that it is now my responsibility to pass along the lessons that I myself was taught. I relish this opportunity more than any other, as the people, my teachers, were very free with their advice and counseling, and I can think of nothing better or more important to do with my life than to pass along what I’ve learned to others.

  3. says

    At 7 years old I wanted to be a singer, teacher, artist and I am neither of those now. And since then I’ve thought about marine biologist, HR manager, career counsellor, academic, nutritionist, yoga teacher, etc etc. I know it keeps my mind fresh and I have learned lots along the way while pursuing information about these careers, but I still can’t settle down. But I love this post because I’ve always had people tell me what I should do to be ‘normal’, and hey, I just want to be me!

    • says

      Hey YogiCrystal,
      I hear you! When I was at university I set out to study the broadest course I could because I just couldn’t choose. I found a science degree that let me fit in marketing, philosophy, computer programming, journalism, french….and when they said I couldn’t do a particular subject because it hadn’t been done like that before, I made doubly sure I did that subject, and rocked at it. Now, interestingly, because I’ve shifted my focus away from *me* and *what I want to do* to *who can I serve* I’m finding that I’m opening doors to all those interests and qualifications to find a place in what I now do.

      I wonder if you have a feeling or hunch for who you might want to work with or what kind of people (or animals) you might want to help? That might guide you along the path to the next steps, and help take the spotlight off this pressurised ‘choice’ of career. After all, you can invent your own job title doing just what you do best, right?

  4. Sammie Tana says

    Hello i come from a little country in Africa called Cameroon. I wanted to be an actress, journalist or a pilot when i was younger. Now i am 15 years old and my parents are forcing me to become a medical doctor which i dont want to be. I need some advice on how to help myself out.

    • says

      That sounds very difficult! Do you think you would be able to have a conversation with your parents about how they felt at your age? Did your parents end up doing what they dreamed of, or were they also pushed into careers? Perhaps the university or medical school could also offer you some advice(this might have happened before) and somebody at the school may be willing to sit down in a meeting and discuss this issue with you and your parents together? Sounds like you would get lots of relief by getting this into the open, huh? Hugs x

  5. says

    Great article and I’m in LOVE with the picture. Just in love. Because I love tea and trees. So tea-drinking teas are just my cup of tea. … 🙂

    Ok, anyways: When I was young I didn’t want to be anything. I thought it was stupid that all my friends around me wanted to become veterinarians. I told everybody that we couldn’t possibly know what we would become when we grew up so it didn’t make sense to think about it now.

    Secretly though, I think I wanted to become an author. I have this old note book in which I wrote about plums and strawberries when I was in first grade. 🙂

    I’m curious: What do you tell your daughter when she tells you she wants to be a florist? Do you tell her she can become whatever she wants to be? And how do you handle the other adults asking her this question?

    Again, great post. Got me thinking 🙂


    • says

      Hi Iris

      Glad you liked the painting : )

      Do you do any writing now? And what did you become when you grew up…

      In answer to your question: yes. I say ‘that sounds brill’ and then sometimes ask her what sort of florist shop she’d have. I try not to judge or criticise or be condescending about any of her ideas, while also sometimes guiding her away from thinking she HAS to decide! So that means playing around with telling her what I might do when I grow up too : )

      I would support her whatever her path.
      As for other adults…well, if I feel like she’s being boxed in then I try to gently open up the conversation by asking the other adult what THEY wanted to be when they were little, and if that matched up to what they are now.

  6. says

    I can’t remember what I wanted to be when I was little. But I do recall having quite an elaborate imagination that made my ideas convincingly real to me. I was certain that I had written the song Bingo and “Don’t It Make My Brown Eyes Blue”. When I went for a ride in my dad’s crew truck (he worked in highway construction) I told everyone (and believed it) that I had been on an airplane. And when my family drove through a town that had a clock tower on the main street I was sure that we had been to London, England.

    So, if some well-meaning adult were to ask me now what I want to be when I grow up, I would have to say that more than anything I would like to be a fanciful four year old again!

    • says

      That made me laugh, Andrea 🙂

      I think you’ve captured that feeling really well. Perhaps you know one of my favourite quotes from The Little Prince?

      “In the course of this life I have had a great many encounters with a great many people who have been concerned with matters of consequence. I have lived a great deal among grown-ups. I have seen them intimately, close at hand. And that hasn’t much improved my opinion of them.

      Whenever I met one of them who seemed to me at all clear-sighted, I tried the experiment of showing him my Drawing Number One, which I have always kept. I would try to find out, so, if this was a person of true understanding. But, whoever it was, he, or she, would always say:

      “That is a hat.”

      Then I would never talk to that person about boa constrictors, or primeval forests, or stars. I would bring myself down to his level. I would talk to him about bridge, and golf, and politics, and neckties. And the grown-up would be greatly pleased to have met such a sensible man.”

      SO important to keep that feeling of what it was like to be four or six or eight!

  7. Janet says

    I can’t remember too much what my 7 year old self wanted to be but over the years I’ve longed to be an occupational therapist, a teacher, an artist, a calligrapher, a window dresser, a massage therapist, a counsellor, a writer, a poet, a life coach. In varying degrees I have tasted most of these and have discovered threads that run through these career choices: Helping others and creativity score high on the list and today my overriding passion is to communicate with others in ways that bring healing and wholeness to their lives. My ‘problem’ is that although I have tasted and explored many things, I don’t feel ‘qualified’ enough in any of them to be able to offer an authentic service to others. I worked as a teacher for 10 years and followed this with a 3 year spell as a massage therapist/reflexologist but now I am retired at the age of 53 and long to join the threads of my life together in some meaningful way. I want to unleash my creativity out into the world but worry that I am not ‘qualified’ to do so. Without credentials will I be taken seriously? Any advice?

    • says

      Hi Janet

      I’ll be talking a bit more about this in some of my later posts so keep reading…

      I love that you’ve already begun identifying a connecting thread to your passions.
      Perhaps thinking about WHO you want to help would be a start. And not worrying about being under qualified – you can invent your own job description and provide a totally unique service made up of all the amazing skills you’ve developed. From my own experience being coached (I’m not a coach myself) it really helps to take the focus off ‘what can I do’ to ‘who do I want to serve’

  8. says

    I loved the post, Jo. I think we must be on the same wavelength, since I just recently also wrote about what I wanted to grow up to be and how it’s represented in my life today: http://pinkdanceshoes.com/2012/12/29/when-a-5-year-old-chooses-your-dance-shoes/

    I wanted to be a ballerina and am now a swing dancer and teacher. Though it’s not exactly the same, I had the right idea when I was a kid. I only recently realized that I’ve grown up into someone my 5-year-old self would have been happy with.
    I think we knew best when we were children, before we were taught that we need to fit into a box and do what is expected of us.


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