Fab Fridays 50: Questions To Avoid

“What do you want to be when you grow up?” is one of the most useless questions an adult can ask a child.

What do you want to be when you grow up?” is one of the most useless questions an adult can ask a child.

First, it fosters the wrong kind of mindset by encouraging kids to define themselves in terms of a career and a single identity.​

As if growing up is finite. As if at some point you become something and that’s the end.” — Michelle Obama

​Second, it ignores important factors in the equation:

What if their ideal job hasn’t been invented yet? Old industries are changing. Roughly ⅔ of today’s grade-school students will end up doing work that hasn’t been invented yet. On the other hand, new industries are emerging faster than ever. Who would have thought it would be possible to make a living out of making YouTube videos? Help kids see that their future self doesn’t exist right now and that their interests may change over time.

What if they want to do more than one thing? According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average person ends up holding a dozen different jobs in their lifetime. Teach kids that they don’t have to do or be one thing. They can do many things. Teach them that it's ok to rethink their chosen line of work and switch gears when necessary.

In 2012, Professor Deepak Malhotra gave a moving speech to the graduating class at Harvard Business School. "Quit early, quit often—not because it's hard, but because it sucks,” he proposed. We don’t emphasize this enough in schools. We teach kids the importance of persevering and not giving up, and forget to remind them that it’s ok to quit. Grit is important, but don’t "persevere" if you’re going in the wrong direction.

Adam Grant suggests that kids might be better off learning about careers as actions to take rather than as identities to claim. When kids see work as what they do rather than who they are, they’re more willing to explore different possibilities. For example, in the book Think Again, a study showed that when 2nd and 3rd graders learned about “doing science” instead of “being a scientist” they were more excited about pursuing a career in science.

"Becoming a scientist might seem out of reach, but the act of experimenting is something we can all try out.” —Adam Grant


Instead of asking kids what they want to be when they grow up, have them brainstorm about all the things they love to do. Talk to them about careers and professions as something we do rather than someone we are. And make sure they understand that, sometimes, quitting is OK, instead of persevering in the wrong direction.​


What else is up with Ms. Fab?

In this podcast Chrisman Frank (Synthesis CEO) and I lay out the behind-the-scenes of Synthesis. We talk about the value of games in learning, why how you learn is more important than what you learn, and our journey building Synthesis for the past 6 months.

I also published two videos this week: The Synthesis Community and 5 Things that Make Synthesis Unique.

​Thanks for watching and listening!​

Until next week!

Ana Lorena Fabrega