Are you struggling to find your true calling? Are you working, but wondering why you don’t love your job the way you think you should? Perhaps it’s time to talk to your inner child.

Career paths can feel stifling, and it starts early in childhood with “What do you want to be when you grow up?”. When I was asked this in preschool, I replied “I want to paint wooden toys”. How specific! There was a wooden toy train at preschool that I thought was beautiful. Maybe it had “hand-painted” written on it somewhere, who knows. It was elegant, with smooth maroon, navy, dark green and black paint and it made me happy just to look at it. I thought I would like to put that rich coloured paint onto wooden toys, just like some unknown person had done to that lovely train.

The grown-up response I received was, “Oh, so you want to be an artist”. I carried that label for years, until I got sick of people telling me “you must like drawing and painting pictures”. I didn’t. So I thought I was wrong, I mustn’t want to be an artist. By then my favourite subject was maths, so my new reply to the “whaddyawannabe” question became “Accountant”. Adults would reply with “Oh, so you must love maths”. That was correct, I did love maths. So I must want to be an accountant.

Accounting turned out to be my least favourite maths stream. I was wrong again!! But we ask kids what they want to be when they grow up, as if being an adult is – literally – a piece of cake. Pick one that seems good, follow the recipe and be.that.cake. Our choices are limited to the cakes we’ve seen before. As a kid who loved maths, I didn’t know I was already collecting the ingredients to be an advertising statistician, economics journalist or a computer game developer (or this sales analyst for an adult toy company that really loves his job!). All I knew was that maths was an ingredient in “Accountant”.

Think about what gave you joy as a child, way back as young as you can remember, and consider this. Kids don’t know what’s good for them, they just know emotions. There’s not a lot of thought about money, life purpose or obligation to society. But at some point, the games and make-believe stop (well, for most of us). When did you stop, and why? Other commitments, schoolwork or sports? Peer pressure to sell your ‘My Little Pony’ collection and hang out at the mall instead? Chances are it was an external influence. You didn’t wake up one day to find that you no longer enjoyed playing.

How to tune into your inner child and put them to use:

1. What did you do for fun as a kid? What games did you like, what role did you play in those games?

2. What subjects did you like the most at school?

3. Where was your favourite place to be? Running around outside, in your room, at a friend’s house? Why did that location make you happy

4. These three questions above tap into your inner child’s mind, body and soul. Does your current job feed into these? What’s missing
I don’t paint wooden toys and I’m not an accountant. The team games I played and the solo make-believe at home (happy, but noisy!) has become independent work in an open-plan office. My love of maths and that gorgeous train are really a love of logic and the satisfaction of seeing a job completed, knowing that I helped make that happen. Project work is ideal for me.

What is your inner child telling you to do?

Image: Brio Train by Stephen Woods , licence CC BY 2.0

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