Westmont Magazine You Can't Be Anything You Want to Be
Do we inspire students when we say, “With hard work and persistence, you can be anything you want to be”? I don’t think so. This often-quoted platitude simply isn’t true and may actually cause harm.
Think about it. How many of us have the manual dexterity to become a surgeon? What we know about spiritual gifts from the Scriptures — they’re varied and no one possesses them all — certainly applies to vocational gifts.
Many of us underestimate our abilities and aim too low in our career and life aspirations, thus underutilizing our gifts. A lack of accurate self-appraisal is certainly epidemic in our culture. Isn’t it liberating to think we can be anything we want to be?
No, because freedom lies not in doing whatever we want, but in doing what makes sense given all the dimensions of our person. “I can be anything I want to be,” may not only represent folly, but unfounded arrogance.
Second, such a perspective actually results in greater confusion. If everything is an option, nothing is an option. If I really believe I can do anything, I may be paralyzed by the proliferation of possibilities, focusing on exterior issues instead of internal realities.
These realities include how we are created. I encourage students to take seriously the process of discovering what they do well, what they are passionate about, what propels them to do the things they do, and how their personality impacts that. Without appropriate self-exploration, we can become disoriented, paralyzed and frustrated, desperately trying to find clear direction.
Fortunately, effective ways for healthy self-discovery are available to students, and most are interested in such a process because they want to understand themselves better.
But there is no test that will tell them exactly who they are and make specific choices obvious for them. It is difficult to understand our gifts without the practical experiences that an internship or a significant volunteer experience provides.
The Career and Life Planning office offers resources better described as inventories or surveys. None of these tools have right or wrong answers, nor do they reveal dark personality flaws. Instead, they help students sort out, organize, and find new ways to look at their interests, skills, values and personality characteristics.
When most students try to make a list of their interests, they run out of ideas quickly. Interest assessments sort out and provide helpful patterns in thinking about what motivates them.
Students often lament, “I don’t have any skills!” They can’t see a future in the things they know how to do. But they have a multitude of transferable skills critical for success in any field and can learn to discern them.
Do they value security and stability or adventure and independence? We have resources to answer questions like these.
Our personalities (how we relate to the world, make decisions, gather information, structure our life, etc.) are an important part of who we are. One assessment helps students understand their personality type, something that has been helpful in my own life.
Assessments are not magic, and don’t determine what students will do. These tools help students understand themselves better, describe options they may not have considered, provide them with language to describe themselves to others (including employers), and give them valuable information for making wise career decisions.
Realizing that they have many— but not unlimited — options is far more helpful and even liberating than the unfocused notion “You can do anything.” As students struggle with career direction, there is no substitute for the in-depth self exploration that puts appropriate parameters around the search.