What is your purpose in life?
Growing up, children and teens are often asked, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” As I continued to think about this question throughout my teen years and into college, I realized this question has so much more to do with status than with children choosing a career path. This question is embedded in status, hierarchy, class, race, and gender roles… A mere “What do you want to be” is a simple gesture rooted in judgment. It is through this question and through this process that parents criticize other children and begin to emphasize performance, status, and elitism. Parents attempt to sway children and teens into certain careers and fields, typically the ones that make more money. And rightfully, we want our children and teens to succeed. But how are we measuring success?
We want each and every generation to be brighter, to learn more, to better understand and obtain what their parents did not have. But with what ideals? Or better yet whom’s ideals? As a student and researcher, I have constantly struggled with the judgments, ideas, and misconceptions of adults and even peers on my “career choice.” From the questions on how many years of school, to what do you do, I have learned to respond in a certain way that leaves me with less questions and more respect. But on the same note, why do I need to answer to people anyway and why does it seem to bother people?
As I continue to reflect, I realize that it isn’t so much about my goal of being a professor, but my perspective on school, academia, and my future. I have never seen my career goal as a job. I have never tried to speak on what my goals are in a way where what I do is objectified and classified as a certain occupation. Because, well, it is so much more than that. It is my purpose. We all try to seek happiness. The question millennials are often faced with is, How do I find happiness? But we’re asking the wrong questions. We should be asking: what are you going to do to find happiness within yourself? Similarly, we shouldn’t ask our children and teens what they want to be when they grow up, but what their purpose will be in this life, in this world. I mention happiness because it is closely tied to purpose. When I discovered my purpose, I felt a genuine happiness in my body. But it wasn’t easy getting there. I had to break down and unlearn thoughts, classifications, ideals, and social rules that barred me from seeing my own success and worth that I now have begun to develop. My craft, research, is difficult. At times, I feel like giving up. But because I know my purpose in life: To help students of color create their own research, engage with academia, and give people of color a voice by any means possible, I know I can succeed. My purpose involves a lot of time, effort, and belief, but the biggest barrier I had to overcome was my own mind… The way my mind conceptualized success, purpose, careers, money, and growth at a young age. When I began challenging these ideals instilled to me throughout school, via institutions, I realized that I could do anything.
The youth of our generation need to learn this while they are still young. Don’t ask them what they want to be, ask them what their purpose will be. Let their purpose, their mind, freely guide them to success. Don’t ask them a question that is secretly loaded with plaguing notions of elitism, money, and status. People who have purpose and know their purpose, will find their path. With hard work, they will find a career and craft that they will love and prosper through. It’s time for us to re-envision careers, and begin to value purpose.