Abbeygate sixth form student Maisy Freeman doesn't have an answer to the question 'What do you want to be when you grow up?'
‘What do you want to be when you grow up?’ – the question we taunt the youth of today with as though a constant reminder that they cannot stay young forever. A constant interruption to any joy childhood may possess.
The question works like a warning sign popping up steadily, so we don’t get too comfortable enjoying our childhood; it serves as a reminder that there is a world we don’t yet have the skills to navigate.
Eventually, there is a fence you reach and on the other side you are required a new sort of maturity.
Your answer has to be genuine. From this point on it is no longer cute to say ‘Princess’ but thought-provoking. Saying the wrong thing means you are stereotyped in a way so underdiscussed. You answer ‘Fairy’ and whispers ripple like wildfire through the adult’s mind: do they not have hobbies or interests? No realistic ambitions? The realisation hits you: You have taken a step over a barrier you were not aware was present. The step from ‘sweet’ to ‘falling apart’.
‘What do you want to be when you grow up?’ – the answer should be in the form of a job.
The curious adults, with a need to delve into minds, feel like an occupation would be the best way to measure a person. I want to be the sort of person who can always look on the bright side. I want to be reliable, be able to always live in the moment. That is not the answer they are looking for, even though my answers would tell you more about me as a person than any dream job I could come up with might. I want to be a journalist. Which one gives you more insight? The occupation you answer their question with is not a life plan or a dream you’ve had since the age of four but spur of the moment decision to desperately avoid being portrayed as a failure. For a long time, I answered with ‘architect’. I needed an answer and I liked Grand Designs, that’s all. The panic tricked me into thinking that this was my dream. It soon became clear that since I cannot even work my iPhone, having a job based on the talent of computers was a nightmare.
‘What do you want to be when you grow up?’ – as a child this question sat alongside many lessons I had to learn. ‘I want never gets’, my mum used to say. I’m sure many mums and dads drilled this mantra into their child’s minds. Yet, the question remains focused on the ‘want’ as though generalising already an acceptance that this will not be the case. You won’t get what you want like you were always warned.
‘What do you want to be when you grow up?’ – the question’s purpose to me is still unclear for all I have to base an answer on is school. But there is a world with no map, no textbook which people expect us to be able to navigate.
‘What do you want to be when you grow up?’ – is a question too vague to answer. I want to be so many different things now and when I grow up. What do you want to be? Who do you want to be? I prefer that. Ask it to any age and they’ll all have an answer, something they are yet to harness, something true that will tell you more about them than a job will ever manage to do. Taking on the world one small dream at a time instead of reaching for a life plan in which you are not invested. An actual dream. Who do you want to be?
-- Maisy Freeman studies A-levels in Dance, English Language, History and Maths at Abbeygate Sixth Form College, Bury St Edmunds
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