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by Donna Bennett
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October 2009 Archives

Adults in conversation with children will often resort to this fail-safe question to make a connection with a child. Children usually have a quick and ready answer: an astronaut! A fireman! A pilot! A teacher! And so on. They call out their favorites without restraints, without hesitation. They see it and they believe it.

Can you remember longing for the grown-up day when you would magically become who and what you dreamed to be? For some people, things turned out exactly as believed; for others a new, different, and often surprising path was followed.

Whatever your path has been to now, do you find yourself coming full circle lamenting, "I don't know what I want to be when I grow up!" You are not alone. In my work as a coach, I hear it often. I've been in that place myself. The timing is different for everyone. There is no right time, nor wrong time. Yet, when the question evolves from a lament to a gnawing question, it may be that something either has or has not happened in your life, and change is imminent.

What often follows the gnawing question is a need for answers. Answers that make sense, that are tangible, easy, and manageable. Answers that are solid and will help us move forward. We look 'out there' since looking inward can be difficult. It can mean the difference between being practical and emotional. Both come into play when faced with hard decisions. We rely on personal history, experiences, and well-formed beliefs. But if our past gives us any indication that we have limitations, we tend to forget all the good stuff, and take the safe route. The safest route is usually to keep the status quo. We go with the belief that trying something new will be too difficult and failure is likely. A belief that can stop us in our tracks.

Instead, what if you decided to approach the question as a child - without hesitation, without restraint, believing in possibilities. Change must start there. If you can move aside your roadblocks, you will make room for the first step. The step that includes both looking inward and looking outward. It involves reflection, feedback, research, discussion, listening, ideas, and embracing "maybe's" and "could-be's."

To help you move around your roadblocks, give some thought to the following questions. As you consider these questions, think about your strengths, your skills, and the value you bring to a new venture.

• What are the characteristics that you consistently demonstrate in situations where you feel most accomplished?

• How would you describe your uniqueness and areas of expertise (what do you do that makes you stand out as a person)?

• How would you describe others' perception of what they can consistently expect from you (your peers, colleagues, clients, customers, friends, family)?

Ask for help from those who know you. How would they answer these questions about you?

This process can help you tap into the openness of your child within, and may move you closer to knowing what you really want to be when you grow up.