I know adults mean well when they ask: “what do you want to do when you’re older?” But it’s a bit of a dumb question.
Ironically, however sure you may be at 18 that when you’re older you want to be Superman (or Cinderella), you can’t possibly know that…until you are older and figure out that the glasses would look better stamped on and those high heels are impossible to walk in every day. In which case how could you reliably choose what subjects you want to do at school, or even at degree level?
A study just published by an alliance of education organisations asked 11,800 young people in the UK aged between 13 and 18 what they wanted to do when they grew up. Apparently, these young people took it more seriously than the census because nobody said they wanted to be a Jedi, but they also had no sense of realism or knowledge about what sort of careers are actually out there.
Disregarding the exceptional, most kids of 13 or 14 think that a career is what people do on TV, or what mum and dad do when they’re not nagging you to stop watching TV. Shockingly, the most popular ambition was to be an actor/actress, though lawyer, police officer, doctor, sportsperson and teacher ranked pretty high too. As kids get older, ambitions get a bit more realistic – teacher, psychologist, accountant, police officer, lawyer, IT consultant….etc.
But the big problem: “career aspirations of teenagers at all ages can be said to have nothing in common with the projected demand for labour in the UK between 2010 and 2020.” Basically, 21 per cent of young people want to be in 2.4 per cent of the labour market, which essentially means that almost 9 out of 10 people will be disappointed.
Sorry Chuck, you can’t be an astronaut.
But I really don’t think this is as big a problem as the report suggests. Disappointment (and dealing with it) is part of life and frankly the world would be a better place if everybody worked in customer service at some point in their lives. If anything, they would learn to complain without throwing a hissy fit.
On a more serious note, there are plenty of jobs around today that did not even exist 10 years ago. Forbes put together a little list. Number one? App developer. To give you an idea of how successful you can be, Apple paid out $5bn (£3.3bn) to app developers last year.
My point is that it doesn’t matter what we want to do when we are at school. It probably won’t happen. And that’s ok. Your working life will likely be somewhere between 50 and 60 years. There’s plenty of time to change you mind.
The biggest tragedy is not that expectations are mismatched. It’s that schoolchildren and undergraduates are required to choose what they want to do with life before they are ready to choose what they want to do with life.
If this study’s authors want to tackle unrealistic expectations, they would do better not to keep asking.
Bottom line: sometimes it’s better not to know what you want to do. Sometimes it doesn’t matter.