What Will You Be When You Grow Up?


How do you know what you’re supposed to be when you grow up?

I thought I knew going into college. I was determined that my future would be in fashion merchandising. I declared my major early, I worked all of my summer jobs in the same industry, and if my grades were any indication, I was doing quite well. But wow did I hate it. By the time I finished up my Junior year of college, I was in full-on career crisis mode.

I considered changing majors, but that would mean extra years of school. I prayed, I talked to friends, and I traveled. Eventually God used my friend Dan to steer me in the right direction. Dan had been accepted to Harvard Business School’s deferred admission program, where you are admitted with the understanding that you will work for two years before enrolling. He encouraged me to apply, even though I wasn’t a business major and hadn’t, at that point, even taken many business classes. I decided to give it a shot, and thank Heaven that I did, because it set me squarely on what was the right path for me.

Having seen my own kids and their friends approach that same “what am I going to do, for real” crisis point in recent years, I wish that high schools and colleges and even churches were doing more to help young people, and young women especially, navigate that question.

Fortunately there are things you can do to help yourself, your daughters, your nieces, and your friends approach their future careers with confidence.

Put the challenges in perspective.

Despite great advances in recent decades, women still face some significant inequalities in today’s work place. The wage gap between male and female earners has narrowed, but it remains persistent, especially at the highest levels. A study released by the World Economic Forum suggests that at current rates, we won’t see the global gender gap close until around 2095.

Screen Shot 2015-01-30 at 4.02.08 PMBig numbers and statistics are fine, but when it comes down to it, what is there for any individual woman to do about pay gaps or other gender inequality issues? First, recognize that your true worth will never be determined by any number on your pay check. You are a child of God; fearfully and wonderfully made. He has gifted you and brought you into the workplace with one purpose, and that is to serve Him. That doesn’t mean you have to ignore injustices, just that you are not defined by them.

I tend to think that “doing something” about workplace inequality is a lot like voting. Each individual vote is small—miniscule even—in the big picture. Some people look at that and think that their vote doesn’t matter, so why bother? But it does matter, a lot. Each vote may be small, but without them, there would be no big picture. Similarly, women can “vote” against workplace inequalities in lots of different ways. They can seek out companies that share their values. They can strive to be fantastic employees. And they can speak up. We all should speak up (in respectful and honorable ways) when confronted with injustice. That can mean having a frank discussion with your boss or HR representative, or it can mean going out of your way to secure a fair wage for an employee that you manage.

Evaluating the options.

In order to make good decisions about your future, you need to know some things about yourself. What are your God-given strengths? What excites you? It’s okay if you can’t put your finger on a particular career just yet. When I made the decision to try to go to business school, I didn’t know or expect that I would end up in commercial real estate. But I knew that I loved working with people and leading them towards common goals. I did not, on the other hand, have the necessary passion or patience for the creative world of fashion.

Screen Shot 2015-01-30 at 4.02.19 PMIn addition to thinking through these things on your own or with friends, I recommend that everyone seek out some sort of formal skills and/or strengths assessment, not just early on, but periodically throughout your career.

In a competitive marketplace like ours, it can’t hurt to think through some areas—like science and technology related fields—where significant opportunities for women exist or are growing. Too many young women overlook such fields because they mistakenly assume that they aren’t qualified. If your giftedness and passions lead you towards technology or anything else, then you should pursue that calling with vigor.

There is a special sort of energy that people bring to a job when they are working from within their giftedness and passions. It’s powerful, and engaging. By entering into the workforce, you have the opportunity to bring that kind of energy with you, impacting everyone around you and bringing Glory to God.

Looking to the future: is the company “family friendly?”

Screen Shot 2015-01-30 at 4.02.29 PMEveryone—whether single, married, parents or not—should be concerned about whether their company is “family friendly.” God wants us to work, but He also wants us to be in relationship with Him and relationship with others. It is important to be working in a place where your boundaries will be respected so that you can be a “whole” person.  It’s perfectly reasonable to expect to work longer hours when you have fewer outside responsibilities, like when you’re right out of school. But the decision as to what to do and where to work should be a long term decision. Spend those early years working hard and building up a strong reputation so that the flexibility will be there when you really do need it.

Take a deep breath.

The big questions of life are, well, big. It’s good to wrestle with them because it forces you to think through who you are and what you value. But it really is okay if you don’t have all of the answers figured out just yet. I know many adults who are still working towards answering that, “what are you going to be when you grow up?” question well into their thirties and even forties. We should all do our best to seek out and pursue God’s calling in our lives. Just don’t forget that ultimately what you are is God’s unique and loved creation, and that really is enough.