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By: Dr. Lucie Pentz

Who do you want to be when you grow up? This is the million dollar question.

A few summers ago, on a pleasant July night, I was taking a walk in our neighborhood with our then third grader, holding an empty pickle jar in our hands, trying to catch a few lighting bugs. (No, we did not catch any, in case you’re wondering). There must have been something about the warm, relaxing breeze that opened the door to the deeper questions of life to surface, such as, what do you want to do when you grow up? Filled with curiosity, I asked whether he was still interested in becoming a firefighter which seemed as an understandably popular choice for an adventure-seeking third-grade boy. The conversation continued, admittedly fueled by my incessant questions.  With his big brown eyes, he finally looked at me and resolutely announced, perhaps just trying to stop the flood of the existential interrogation.  “ Well… you just never know what life will bring your way.” While my curiosity was dismissed and went unsatisfied, I realized that I couldn’t agree with him more.

Yes,  it’s true we never know what life will bring our way. Careers change; interests shift or morph into yet another variation. Our hopes, goals, and aspirations may fade, often unrealized like blowing bubbles that vanish into the air and eventually burst into nothingness. We all have experienced those moments of pivotal turns, crushed dreams, and unexpected detours, trying to navigate the life for which we did not prepare. Many times, feeling shook up and disoriented, we search and grasp for scripts and recipes to guide our next decision. But deep down inside, we know there are no how-to books or tutorials that would speak into our jumbled circumstances. So, what is left then, when the question of what do you want to do when you grow up feels so daunting? Perhaps we’re not asking our children the right question. What about this?… Who do you want to be when you grow up? What kind of person are you hoping to become? At the core of our parenting efforts, we return to the essential all-supporting and all-encompassing foundation of character. Those collective virtues of wisdom, kindness, humility, selflessness, and too many other qualities to name, form the bedrock of character that sustains us through the uncertain circumstances of life.  What do our children do when no one is looking, when the work is not being graded and trophies are not dispensed? What do our children say behind our backs when we’re not listening? What do our children do when they’ve been wronged and are tempted to seek revenge or when there are no immediate or obvious payoffs or rewards for doing the right thing.  All those moments of decision-making represent the opportunity to make choices that develop and ultimately reflect character.

So the real question guiding our parenting and the developmental path taken by our children ought not to be “What do you want to be (or do) when you grow up?” but rather “Who do you want to be when you grow up?”  In the long run, being always precedes doing.  Who you are will determine what you do.

Our third-grader was correct. While we cannot completely prepare our children for the right career or vocation, we can equip them for the ups and downs of life, twisting, hilly (or mountainous) stretches of the road, as they journey towards character with us by their side. We are the shepherds of their souls, keeping watch, guiding and loving on them all the way in firm yet gentle ways.

Would you like to further explore the topic of character together? Come and join us at St. James Academy on October 18 at 9:30. We will talk about the journey towards character through creating your family mission statement. We’d love to have you join us.

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