David Reitan suggests a new approach to the old question of “What are you going to do?”
The other night, my coworker asked me that question anyone in their twenties will eventually face: “So, what are you going to do?” In the months leading up to and following graduation, I have grown sick of hearing stuff like this. It seems like these are always the first types of questions asked, to the point they have become merely routine, traditional. People get to a certain age, are asked what they are going to do, they get older, and ask the younger generation the same questions. Rinse and repeat.
There are two reasons why I despise hearing the likes of “What do you plan on doing?” First, many twentysomethings don’t know what comes next. Industries are constantly specializing, labor is increasingly mechanized and mobilized, our interests change, personal finances play a role, plus there are hundreds of possibilities to choose from. All of these factors have to be accounted for, and the question of “What are you going to do,” assumes that the young and, presumably, inexperienced person will have an answer for you. This is not always the case.
Secondly, this insistent focus on starting on a career, making up one’s mind, suggests that to take time in deciding what comes next is unacceptable. The doom is all the more apparent if one has no idea. And so a terrible paradox arises: if I take too long to make a decision: I will “fall behind;” if I just jump to a conclusion: I will somehow be less “happy” or “successful” later in life. I have either missed the middle ground or it is nonexistent.
There are better questions to ask. For those of you who find yourself posing thoughts of “What do you want to do,” to younger people—stop. Or at the very least, don’t ask as often. Instead, find out what they did, what they liked, what they like now, why are they interested in this but not that, what they hope to change about themselves, what challenges they would like to take on, etc. This will not only make for a much more comfortable and interesting exchange, but will help to remind those who are just starting out that they have tastes, have had valuable experiences, and they don’t always have to speak about trial runs or results.
Most importantly, it makes the conversation concrete. The ideas and actions are now tangible, in front of us instead of in some nebulous place of “next steps” or “the future.” Knowing what we did can help us understand the “how” and the “why” of what we are doing in the present, and eventually what we would like the future to be.
We all want to be successful, in whatever way we define the word. Deciding what to do is an integral part of that process. By changing the way we approach the subject through more direct questioning, young adults will be able to better understand what they want and are able to achieve.