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“What do you want to be when you grow up?”

June 2011


Seems like a simple question, right? Millions of graduates are being asked that question during this graduation season. (Most of them by their parents who want to be sure that they’re moving out of the house and paying their own bills. 🙂  )

I speak to thousands of “grown-up” people every year and many of them don’t know what they want to be when they grow up.  Do you find it odd that we expect a 17 or 18 year old to know the answer as they graduate from high school?

The belief or expectation that this is a simple question to answer can often get in the way of actually answering it. It’s not a simple question!

As I think about the question from my past (What did I want to be when I grew up?) I realize that I’d have to ask my parents and friends from back then because I really don’t remember.  I know in high school I wanted to coach sports. But then again, I thought I was pretty smart so maybe I should go pre-med in college. That made a lot of sense because those 2 professions are so similar… not!  One difference that became abundantly clear to me is that as a college basketball coach I would get to pick my players and work with people I had hand-selected …  as a doctor, I wouldn’t get to pick my patients.  I also remember from before high school that one thing I was NEVER going to be was a public speaker. I turned down the nomination to be the President of the National Honor Society and instead became Vice President because as the President, I would have been required to give a speech. Horrifying!!  

Part of the problem with answering this question is the question itself. The “what” and the “be” don’t match up! The “what” is extrinsic… a thing, tangible, measurable.  The “be” is intrinsic… immeasurable, ever-changing, ever-growing.  

We really should be asking:

  1. What do you want to do?  AND
  2. Who do you want to become?
These questions are more easily answered.
So, WHAT do you want to DO? Do you want to do something technical, something creative, something inspirational, something meaningful? What would that look like in your life? “I like to work with my hands.”  “I like to work with people.”  “I like to do accounting.”

Now, I believe the more important questions are… WHO do you want to BE? or Who do you want to become?  I’ve heard some people say “I want to become a multi-millionaire.”  “I want to become a teacher.”  “I want to become a CEO.”

If these are in line with your thoughts, will you allow me to share another perspective with you?  A multi-millionaire, a teacher, a CEO… these things are, well, things. They are titles. They aren’t immeasurable, ever-changing, and ever-growing.  Your mind is mixing up the “be” and “what” making it hard for you to decide or answer the question.

When you are asked “Who do you want to become?” the answer should be about traits, attributes, and characteristics that you’d like to enhance or acquire.  Here are examples: I want to become inspirational. I want to be more compassionate. I want to be more frugal, accountable, sincere, genuine, real, agile, respectful, kind, trustworthy, consistent, disciplined, tactful, or confident.

You see, I think we like the extrinsic, tangible, well-defined things because they seem to be easier to plan out, measure, etc.  Yet, in reality, they can also be the hardest to attain because they usually depend on other people agreeing with you that you deserve to do or have what you want.

In our coaching program, we don’t teach you to go after the extrinsic. We believe that when you develop intrinsically, the extrinsic will come your way. You will rightfully deserve to have it. But, more importantly, what you develop intrinsically can NEVER be taken away from you.

So the questions to ask yourself…

  1. What attributes, traits, and characteristics would you like to acquire or enhance to become the person you’d like to become?  List these out!  If you need help on possible attributes, click here for a list from my website. Pick 3-5 that are really important to you.
  2. How do you set goalsaround increasing, say, your confidence, sincerity, appreciation, or consistency? Here are some hints:
    1. These goals should be completely within your control to achieve. For instance, if you want to increase your compassion, you may want to volunteer for organizations that would require you to do that. You are in complete control of the time you spend helping others. Set measurable goals around the amount of time you volunteer. While you’re there, concentrate on your thoughts and your compassion and how to further increase this attribute and habit. If you are scheduled to work at the food bank and you don’t go, well then, you chose not to increase your compassion that day. Use your natural strengths to do better at the next opportunity.
    2. Don’t set goals that aren’t under your control. (Ok, I know that’s the same as above, but it’s an important point.) For instance, many people set goals to have so much money by a certain time. If you are saving this money in the stock market or other investment accounts, you don’t have complete control of when you achieve your goal. Because stuff happens in life, you may not even have complete control over how much you put money into your account. Focusing on the amount of money saved can actually distract you from saving if you feel your expectations aren’t being met fast enough.
    3. You’ll measure your progress toward your goals through your activity toward the traits and attributes. So, let’s say you DO want a certain amount of money. We call that your “dream”, not your goal. An attribute needed to get that dream may be consistency. So, how do you grow your ‘consistency’? You set a goal that you will help you increase your consistency using your natural thinking and valuing strengths. Maybe you make a goal to do the dishes every evening using your strength and desire to serve others. You can measure this by counting the days that you do it. It’s under your complete control to achieve this goal (unless you have people fighting to do the dishes at your house. 😉 Every time you reach your goal you are gaining more of the attribute you’d like, using your strength, and becoming more of the person you’d like to become.
    4. Celebrate your achievements! In the previous paragraph I talked about doing the dishes every night to develop consistency. Many people wouldn’t take that approach because it isn’t aligned with the extrinsic, monetary goal. They would think that it made more sense to set a goal around consistently saving money. (But, if you haven’t done that already, that might not be aligned with your strengths so, why would you start there?) Once you develop the trait, you can learn to apply it almost anywhere at any time. Start out with goals you can achieve! Rely on your strengths to achieve them. Then, when you achieve them, celebrate your success. Let your brain know that this is the new habit that you’d like to create.
  3. What goals can you set today that will help you gain the attributes that will help you become a better you?
Focus more on the BECOMING than the DOING. Sure, you’re going to DO in order to BECOME, but focus on the becoming. When you focus on doing the task, it can be frustrating, boring, and mundane at times. It can feel like a burden, a duty or obligation.  When you focus on the becoming, you are now motivated intrinsically to do that very same task. It’s no longer a burden, but a stepping stone to help you become the person you’d like to become. I encourage you to give it a try. Believe in yourself!

So, “what DO you want to DO when you grow up?” and

“WHO do you want to BECOME?”

Our coaching program helps you utilize your natural strengths to accomplish your goals and become the person that you’d like to become. New groups are starting NOW. You may also wish to go through the program on an individual basis. Please visit our website at for more information.


I am currently scheduling speaking engagements for Fall 2011 and all of 2012.


If you, your company or organization is interested in booking me, please use the “Send Us an Email” link at the bottom of this column.


UT Dallas Project Management Symposium

August 11-12, 2011


PMI Dayton / Miami Valley
Chapter Dinner Meeting

September 8, 2011


PMI Dallas Project Summit 2011

September 22, 2011


To see Traci’s complete events list, click here.

Grow in Leadership, Influence & Trust


20 PDUs

Register TODAY!

  • Learn to be a better LEADER.
  • Grow your MINDSET.
  • Get MORE from your team.
  • Increase your SELF-CONFIDENCE
  • Lower your STRESS
  • Resolve and prevent CONFLICTS.

The key to your success is already between your ears. You may just need to make tiny shifts in your thinking to achieve much greater results.


You’ll learn to do this and MORE in your COACHING program.


Sign up TODAY as new classes will be starting in August 2011.




Too many people grow up. That’s the real trouble with the world, too many people grow up. They forget. They don’t remember what it’s like to be 12 years old. They patronize, they treat children as inferiors. Well I won’t do that.

– Walt Disney


The day the child realizes that all adults are imperfect, he becomes an adolescent; the day he forgives them, he becomes an adult; the day he forgives himself, he becomes wise.

– Alden Nowlan


Success is peace of mind which is a direct result of self-satisfaction in knowing you did your best to become the best you are capable of becoming.

– John Wooden


Life is a gift, and it offers us the privilege, opportunity, and responsibility to give something back by becoming more.

– Tony Robbins


Life is a process of becoming, a combination of states we have to go through. Where people fail is that they wish to elect a state and remain in it. This is a kind of death.

– Anais Nin


There is nothing with which every man is so afraid as getting to know how enormously much he is capable of doing and becoming.

– Soren Kierkegaard


And finally I twist my heart round again, so that the bad is on the outside and the good is on the inside, and keep on trying to find a way of becoming what I would so like to be, and could be, if there weren’t any other people living in the world.

– Anne Frank


Always be a first-rate version of yourself, instead of a second-rate version of somebody else.

– Judy Garland

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