“What Do You Want To Be When You Grow Up?”
From as young as 3 years old we’re asked what we want to do when we grow up and ask kids we’re continually asked that same question over and over again from teachers, parents, relatives and just about everyone else we come in contact with that wants to make small talk. There are about 13-14 years between when we are first asked the question as an ambitious toddler with big dreams, to when we’re asked it as an anxious high school student deciding what they want to do for the rest of their life. And in this time our reply starts to change from starry-eyed dreams to a stress-induced, pre-rehearsed recital of university preferences and prerequisites. So what happens in that time? What goes wrong?
As children, the world is our oyster and we have time to play and experiment and try all sorts of different things. If you ask a five-year-old what they want to be when they grow up, chances are their reply will change on an almost weekly basis. This is because their days are full of an exciting and diverse mix of activities. They read books about astronauts voyaging out into space, they take dance classes, play sports and can go from engineering a city out of Lego, to colouring in a picture of a ballerina, faster then you can get a piece of lego lodged in your foot trying to chase them. Fast forward a few years to high school and students are being pressured to choose a faction as either a ’sports kid’, an ‘arts kid’, or an ‘academic kid’ before then being further distilled until they are given a very specific label as an ’Advanced Mathematics and Science Student’ or a ‘Humanities and English Student’. Once you have been placed in your box, you're stuck there and very rarely exposed to other ways of thinking, other activities and other sources of knowledge. The view is taken that there is no reason for a ’sports kid’ to be found in a science lab, and that an advanced mathematics student has no place in a dance studio.
By the time students hit high school, they’re pressured to choose one set path and to stick to it. And by the time a student reaches the final two years of their schooling, it’s expected that they are deeply specialised in one key area and therefore have no reason to be exposed to any other subject areas. You’ll find maths students that couldn’t tell you where the drama rooms were in the school, simply because they had no reason to be in that area, or to concern themselves with the learning happening in those rooms.
Now, some may argue that there is absolutely nothing wrong with this. By their final years of high school, students should have a clear idea of what they want to do for the rest of their life and at that point, it’s simply just a matter of them focussing on getting the best grades they can, in the subjects they need to get into their chosen university course. The idea of having students spend time on subjects in other disciplines is simply just a distraction and major waste of precious time.
In a perfect world full of students that think like a computer, that might just work and it is, in fact, a very efficient way to do it.
Some, on the other hand, may argue that we should be focussed on building the whole student. A student with a diverse range of interest areas, a diverse range of knowledge areas, and therefore a diverse range of options post-school. Some may say that students are ‘Multipotentialites’.
One of the most common themes that you will find when talking to high school students today is that they don’t know what they want to do when they graduate. And even the ones that do know, will often chop and change degrees once they get to university because it wasn’t what they expected.
What we're finding is that a vast percentage of our student population are actually multipotentialites. Now you may be wondering what exactly a multipotentialite is. Well here is a definition from Emilie Wapnick, a self confessed multipotentialite and TED speaker.
"A multipotentialite is someone with many interests and creative pursuits.
Multipotentialites have no “one true calling” the way specialists do. Being a multipotentialite is our destiny. We have many paths and we pursue all of them, either sequentially or simultaneously (or both).
Multipotentialites thrive on learning, exploring, and mastering new skills. We are excellent at bringing disparate ideas together in creative ways. This makes us incredible innovators and problem solvers.
When it comes to new interests that emerge, our insatiable curiosity leads us to absorb everything we can get our hands on. As a result, we pick up new skills fast and tend to be a wealth of information."
Emilie is a fantastic thought leader in the space and make sure to check out her TED talk for more on Multipotentialites.
In school, we’re often told to pick one career path and to stick with it and we’re only ever told about successful people that have been in their fields for +30 years. But rarely are we told about people with diverse career paths in different industries. People such as Dr Bob Childs, a master violin maker turned successful psychologist. Or perhaps Amy Ng, a magazine editor turned illustrator, entrepreneur, teacher and creative director. These are examples of true multipotentialites that are out there, utilising their potential in their different areas of interest and not letting themselves be put in just one box. Read more in The Rise Of The Multipotentialite Part Two.