What Do You Want To Be When You Grow (Up)?

Disc Jockey in Training
Image by Photography By Shaeree via Flickr

Did you know?

Do you know now?

Sean Aiken, a young Canadian man and recent college graduate in 2007, didn’t know what he wanted to do for a living — so he worked 52 jobs in one year to find out.

The recent premiere of the documentary about him, shown in Vancouver, Canada, where he lives, sold out. I can see why.

I love the idea of testing out 52 jobs to find the one that might fit!

Maybe because I never doubted what I wanted to do, and knew from a very early age that I wanted to be a writer. (My dreams of being a radio disc jockey were dashed after one visit to CHUM-FM, then Toronto’s number one rock station, when I realized DJs at commercial stations don’t just play their favorite music all day.)

I grew up in a family of professional communicators — all freelance — who wrote television series, directed feature films and documentaries, wrote and edited magazine articles, so it seemed perfectly normal and logical to:

1) not have a “real” job but sit around the house and negotiate with agents and work when necessary;

2) have a ton of creative ideas all the time, knowing full well that some of them would never sell or find favor;

3) fight hard for the ideas I truly believe in and find supportive partners to pay for them, because someone will always say no — but someone will also, quite possibly say Yes!

I didn’t realize it at the time, but their behavior and experiences strongly shaped my notion of what “work” means. It includes a lot of travel, whenever possible, meeting lots of new people all the time, creating your own concepts — whether articles, films, shows or books, having the self-confidence and stamina to hang in there when times (as they certainly have) get tough. (It also means living within your means because a fantastic year can easily be followed by a leaner one and you need cash in the bank and a low overhead and no debt, all good lessons to learn.)

In 2007, I took a part-time job as a retail sales associate at a mall. Eye-opener! I was 20 to 30 years older than all my co-workers and had never had a job requiring me to stand up for five or six hours at a time, let alone deal with the public in a service role.

I stayed two years and three months — and wrote a book about it: “Malled: My Unintentional Career in Retail” is out April 14, 2011.

In it, I talk honestly about what it felt like to go from being a newspaper reporter at the U.S.’s 6th.-largest daily to wearing a plastic badge, folding T-shirts for $11/hour. I also talk to many others about what our jobs means to our identities and sense of self-worth.

What we do at work, at its best, is who we are, not just something we do to earn a living.

I recently took an amazing test designed to ferret out our work-related motivations, administered on-line. In 15 minutes, it tactfully and succinctly forces you to face your deepest values….

Why do you work? What do most want, and enjoy, from your work emotionally?

James Sale, a British executive who created this system, is offering it FREE to anyone who emails him before February 28 and says, in their subject line, “friend of Caitlin Kelly.”

Email him at

And be prepared to learn a lot, some of it perhaps even a little painful. I did. I learned a great deal about myself and suspect you will too.

The test measures nine key indicators of what truly, even unconsciously, motivates us in our work, whether you are a Director (likes to be in charge), Defender (very attached to security), Creator (yup, me), Searcher (me, too), Spirit (that was me.) You might most powerfully wish to be a Friend, A Star or a Builder.

But if your current work is not allowing you to express your deepest self, it can feel like a straitjacket, no matter how much status, income or lifestyle it provides.

Do you love your current work?

If so, why?

How did you discover this was the right fit for you?

17 thoughts on “What Do You Want To Be When You Grow (Up)?

  1. It’s a debate I have in my head constantly, as I’m sure you can imagine, bsb. My identity and all …
    I kind of fell into my career in communications, and while I enjoy it, I wouldn’t say it blows my highlights back. What I love is writing. I’ve sent off for the motivational map … let’s see what that brings!
    Great, thought-provoking and informative post as always. Thank you, you brilliant writer you!
    Sunshine xx

  2. Hey, sil, you are going to get a real kick out of this test.

    Seriously. I did a pile of them in 1988 and had not done anything like it since. I found it really clarifying. You can pretend to be X or wish to be Y but this peels it back to …nope, this is what’s underneath driving you. I have spent a lot of time trying (unsuccessfully) to fit myself into boxes (journalism is terribly constricting in some weird ways) and this made clear(er) what fuels my engine — which we all knew — creativity.

    When I am allowed, let alone encouraged, to just do it my way (albeit with input and direction, inevitably), I thrive and do my very best work. Which is why I love writing books more than anything. I get a lot of freedom and get to create it from scratch, but have the backup and guidance of agent/editor.

  3. I’m a professor. I enjoy it because it’s still new and interesting and I’m learning a lot. I’m not sure if it’s the right fit for me, but it’s what I’m wearing now. Professional writing sounds like a dream come true. How do you do get a gig doing that? Seriously, how?

  4. Seriously….take a HUGE hit to your income. Forgo pension, sick days, paid vacation, an office, colleagues, raises and promotions.
    Still interested? 🙂

    Getting a full-time well-paid staff job as a writer, in journalism, has become extremely difficult as the industry has shrunk tremendously in the past four years and people like me are fighting for the few scraps left. There are many more writing jobs in corporations, government, ad or PR agencies or non-profits.

    If you want to write for a larger journalism audience, start a blog and work your bum off to expand your audience. If you are really passionate and expert on a particular topic, start writing about it for magazines and newspapers and you, too, can make some cash writing.

    But to earn a healthy and reliable income from my sort of writing? Tough to do. Fun, yes. Tough without, as many of us do, making all sorts of compromises on content and style. I love what I do, but I hate my current income. That’s my ongoing challenge.

    1. I was born poor and raised by a band of crazy gypsies. I have been well-trained to live with impoverished instability. Colleagues make me tired and really the world is my office.

      I don’t want a full-time well-paid staff job. I think freelancing occasionally for magazines could be my speed. And I know I have a memoir in me.

  5. I’ve sent my email for a copy of your book, Caitlin, and look forward to reviewing it for the Reading Room. I loved my job as an academic, but chronic fatigue syndrome meant I had to give it up. These days I work part time, still at the university, but helping students with study skills support. I liked the old job better, but this one I can at least do without exhaustion!

      1. For money I am a SharePoint Administrator

        WTF is that? Check this…

        Basically, I configure an incredibly complex system to manage routine processes, so that people can focus on more important, creative stuff, and managing the exceptions to the routine.

        In support of this I blog about SharePoint, and am active in the local SharePoint community (on my own dime).

        For love, I am Vice President of Launch Pad Job Club, helping people how have lost their jobs to get re-employed. LPJC is a non-profit, and I don’t get paid for the gig. But I love helping people.

        The common denominator (as mentioned in my blog post), is helping people with what they are struggling with – generally helping them be more effective at reaching their goals.

  6. It’s hard to answers these questions in a few lines. I’ve had times when I’ve loved my paid employment, other times when I’ve hated it. I don’t think it’s the subject matter so much, though actually caring about the subject matter makes a big difference, but it’s the feelings of autonomy and respect and achievement, and the idea that you’re actually making a contribution.

    Right now I’m probably most content with my working life, primarily because part of it is focussed on writing (producing words, editing, publishing, all of which brings in next to no income, but that’s not the point), and because part of it is focussed on doing something that will make a (small) difference to people’s lives, and I’m being appreciated into the bargain.

    Staying in meaningless jobs is the soul-destroyer. Then again I live in the first world, so I have an element of choice.

    1. Indeed…There is a new book I read (and didn’t like that much) although it of course became a best seller here — called Drive. In it, author Daniel Pink argues that we all work for 3 reasons, autonomy, purpose and mastery….which your reply encapsulate.

      The reason retail work, the subject of my new book, was in fact soul-destroying for me, finally, was the insanely low wages for doing work that felt meaningless in and of itself — making big profits for some corporate employer. The challenge, then, was to find or create meaning within that sphere and it worked for me when I could, as I often did, connect emotionally with my customers, from Boy Scouts to jet pilots. I loved that part of it!

      I appreciate that you understand what a privilege we both enjoy in being able to pay our bills though intellectual work.

  7. Pingback: I am Sick of Chicken, Rice and Peas « The Edmonton Tourist

  8. I was most amused to see a Sharepoint person in your comments box above loud and proud. I am a Sharepoint Designer during the day, which means I do look and feel type work, basic configuration of sites for teams, throw in the odd informal training session, and find stuff like user experience and user interfaces, and the psychology of how people view/use sites, fascinating. So for all intents and purposes I’m a Sharepoint webmaster.

    I love the work itself, but hate the politics and the fact that I usually have to talk to entirely too many people during the day (guess what the first letter on my Myers-Briggs type is?). It’s not a calling, but as someone who spends a lot of time on the web and loves design and useability, it works for me. And Sharepoint keeps me constantly entertained as there is always something to discover about it (which is why a lot of IT people appear to loathe it).

    I want to be a gypsy when I grow up.

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