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Who Do You Want to Be?

Asking “Who Do You Want to Be?”
Before “What Do You Want to Do?”

We often begin our Work on Purpose curriculum trainings for faculty and staff of colleges, universities, and nonprofits by asking two sets of questions. The first set of questions is:

How old were you the first time you were asked, “What you want to do when you grow up?” And how many times have you been asked some derivative of this question since?

Answering the first question, people sometimes shout out that they were four or five. In some cases, they even say they were two or three. They go on to respond that they have been asked some version of this question hundreds if not thousands of times since then. In sum, the room confirms that, “What do you want to do when you grow up?” is a question we are asked early, and it is a question we are asked often.

The second set of questions we ask faculty and staff is:

How old were you the first time you were asked, “Who do you want to be when you grow up—what kind of person with what kind of impact on others?” And how many times have you been asked this question since?

The room is often silent. People shift uncomfortably in their chairs. Finally, a few people share stories of being asked the question by a favorite mentor in college, or by a religious leader when they were young adults. However, many people in the room tell us they have never been asked.

The Cordes Innovation Award

I am excited to announce that Echoing Green’s Work on Purpose program just received AshokaU’s Cordes Innovation Award for our work to create a societal shift—a new paradigm in which the chronology and the frequency with which these questions are asked are reversed. We envision a world in which people first consider what kind of person they want to be and then consider what they will do with their lives in order to be that person.

Check out this video to hear our program director, Linda Kay Klein, talk about how we are working to pull this off.

If we are successful, research shows that more people will be living up to their highest personal and societal potential: working at nonprofits and social enterprises, innovating on social issues from within corporations as social intrepreneurs, changing hearts and minds as artist-activists, providing high-impact volunteerism, and much more. What’s more, they will be more creative, more innovative, more productive and just straight up happier. Not a bad reason to get up and go to work each day.

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