On and Off Campus Blog: Why I always hated the question, "What do you want to be when you grow up?"

April 19, 2024

By: Scarlett Chan-MacRae ‘26

In fifth grade, my elementary school introduced a new project to our grade. They called it the
“Mentor Project.” Each child was to find a career that we were interested in and shadow
someone from that profession. And without much thought, I decided right there and then that I
would pursue my dream to be a hairstylist and I would start my career right by finding the
perfect mentor.

Ever since I was little, I was always thinking about what I wanted to be when I grew up. I mean,
how could I not? Every single year of my juvenile life, the question of “what do you want to be
when you grow up?” was repeatedly asked. And without fail, I would always answer,
“hairstylist!” I grew up braiding my friends’ hair, and that was the only thing I was really good
at, so at the time, it seemed to be my only choice for a career.

But how would I, a child who hadn’t even reached double digits, know what I wanted to do for
decades to come? I hadn’t even gotten all my adult teeth in yet and I was already expected to
know what I wanted to do with my life, or at least how to answer that question.

As I grew older, I began to realize that maybe hairstyling wasn’t the job I wanted to pursue. It
upset me that I no longer had the desire to follow a dream I’d set for myself many years ago.
Throughout the years, I’ve found my mind wandering through the many ways my life could play
out. I could be a doctor! But I don’t want to go to med school. I could be a real estate agent! But
so many people are already there. I could be a ballerina! But I quit ballet a year ago. I wanted to
be everything and nothing all at once.

Even after I entered high school, the common theme of already having my entire life planned out
began showing up in different ways. Scrolling through social media, I would constantly see
videos titled, “This is why you didn’t get into your top college,” or, “This is what you need to be
doing NOW in order to get into an Ivy League.” And the answer for all of these questions was
that everything that I did in my life before senior year had to have a common theme. Something
that aligned with my intended major or a job I would pursue after my education.

But I’ve never really wanted to define myself by a future I don’t know I will pursue. I am
allowed to change my mind and discover what else the world has to offer. Even later in life, I
will still be tracing new paths for myself. After all, I’m much more than my stats on a sheet of

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