looking for direction

5 Things You Absolutely Don’t Want to Be When You Grow Up

Some people follow a straight, intentional career path from graduation to retirement. It’s a tidy scenario that appeals to many. But most of us don’t take this route. We follow a less-groomed path — a path with poorly-marked forks in the road. It’s not always clear which way to go. At times we find ourselves thinking, “More signage, please!”

I’ve been there. At first glance, my resume may seem odd. I’m a former running coach who has helped create postage stamps, DVDs, books and corporate training programs. Today, I’m a growth developer for a tech startup. The common thread: I love building things, whether it’s a high-functioning team or a killer website.

If you identify with the less-groomed path, too, you can blaze your own trail. By following your intuition, you’ll build a unique, fulfilling career. You may never feel like you’ve reached your destination, but maybe there isn’t one. You don’t need to know what you want to be when you grow up. But here are five things you don’t want to be:

1. Bored

Many entry-level jobs are boring by design. When seasoned employees get sick of a responsibility, it falls to the newbie. But that doesn’t mean you need to pay your dues forever. You deserve the opportunity to use your gifts at work. You deserve to have an opinion and make a difference.

Your boss might not notice you’re bored out of your mind. It’s your responsibility to stay engaged. If you’re feeling bored, speak up. But do yourself a favor — don’t utter the words “I’m bored.” Express the desire to take on more, learn a specific skill or collaborate with a new group of people.

2. Stuck

You went to school for psychology or physics or philosophy, but that doesn’t need to limit your path. Early in your career, you went into banking or real estate or marketing. This doesn’t mean you need to spend the next 40 years doing that if you don’t love it. You have options — probably more than you realize.

Not happy with your career choices so far? Make proactive your middle name. (Click here to Tweet this thought.) Research what it would take to make a specific change. Read books, tap into your social networks and identify actionable ways to move toward your new target. Remember: people take career leaps every day. You can, too.

3. Broke

Money doesn’t buy happiness, but neither do back-breaking student loans and an ugly credit report. Even if you’re out to save the world, you don’t want to be broke. There’s a difference between living frugally (great!) and getting in over your head financially (not great).

Sometimes, you may need to make a strategic career move for financial reasons. Think of this as a big-picture decision, something that’ll help you do X, Y and Z down the road. And the big-picture rule goes both ways. Sometimes, it makes all the sense in the world to take a pay cut for an amazing opportunity.

4. Unappreciated

Do yourself a favor — don’t work indefinitely for people who don’t really get you. Find employers who like the way you think. Find emotionally intelligent people who know how to recognize and support their employees.

In every job interview, suss out whether the job, company and coworkers are a good fit. Don’t allow your self-consciousness to drive the interview process. Yeah, you want them to want you, but you also want to work in a positive environment.

5. One-dimensional

You’re not just a [insert job title here]. You’re a teacher who also loves organic gardening. Or a designer who likes to practice martial arts. Or a full-time parent with a passion for astronomy. Or maybe astrology. You bring your own unique spin to your job and life. That’s valuable.

Seemingly disparate passions converge all the time. Maybe you dream up your best work-related ideas while taking a bike ride or browsing a bookstore. Pouring 100 percent of your energy into your job is never the answer. Don’t forget to be a student of life. Make time for the people and hobbies that fuel you.

Emma Wilhelm loves punchy words and uphill battles. When she’s not driving growth for Mad Mimi, she relishes long runs, the family brewing biz and dance parties with her kids. Follow her on Twitter @emmasota.


  1. Andie

    I definitely agree with the “bored” statement. I was feeling unfulfilled in my entry level job until I realized… I could change it!

    I told my boss I could take on more tasks and sure enough, I’m now much happier with a lot more to do :) I feel productive and engaged. It makes all the difference in my attitude towards my job!

    Andie @ http://www.andiemichellecreative.com

  2. Byron Wolt

    i am usually a positive guy. i speak to students about what they can do and can be. That being said, this is a GREAT list of what not to be!

    • Emma

      Thanks, Byron! I try to be positive, too. I’ve found that a lot of young professionals don’t realize that should/could expect more out of their careers.

  3. Pingback: 5 Things You Absolutely Don’t Want to Be When You Grow Up by Emma Wilhelm | Pondering Moments by Kunle Oyeneye

  4. I think these are spot on. The issue I see is that nobody ever things these things will happen to them and they don’t realize they are happening until it’s too late. :(

    I think you’re absolutely right to be proactive. The longer you wait to change something, the less likely you are to do it. For most people, as painful as any of these are, it’s much more uncomfortable to change. To make change easier, get comfortable with small changes (even superficial ones) since it will make major changes easier should you decide those need to happen.

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