How To Answer The Question, "What Are You Going To Be When You Grow Up?"

Illustrated by Abbie Winters.
What was the one question you were asked the most as a kid? I mean other than, "Why can't you sit still?" It seems like it’s always, "What do you want to be when you grow up?" It's such a trick question. I always wanted to say "taller" or "less allergic to gluten." But that never seemed to be the answer the adults were looking for. They wanted me to proclaim I was going to be the first woman president of the United States. Side note: That could still happen.
So, how can we possibly prepare for a career that we don't even know about?
My mom always put the brakes on that question whenever she overheard some well-meaning adult ask me once again. Her philosophy is a simple one that I'd love to share with you:
Don't worry so much about what you want to be when you grow up, think about what you want your life to look like. Aim for that. Maybe it’s your dream to travel. Maybe you want a white picket fence, 2.5 kids, and a golden retriever. Maybe you know that you want to work with your hands. Maybe you know you don’t like kids but you do like dolphins. Everyone has a different idea of success and happiness, and that’s okay.
For me, I’ve known since I was four what I wanted my life to look like. I want to travel, but I also want a huge farm with tons of animals and acres to roam. I want to make the world pretty and entertain people — and that motivates me in everything I do. My perfect day is spent pretty much equally divided between creating things that entertain people (books, videos, movies, TV shows) and creating things that I just think are pretty or fun to look at. My art studio is my sacred place. My utopia if you will.

Don't worry so much about what you want to be when you grow up, think about what you want your life to look like.

There was a time I thought about taking the more "traditional" path: I got good grades in school. I applied to two art schools and was offered scholarships to both. But I realized pretty quickly that I would have to quit doing what I was doing (i.e. videos, acting, creating, writing) in order to get a degree in what I was already doing. Art school is more than a full-time career all by itself, and I wouldn't have time left to do any of the things that I would be studying! So for me, college wasn't the right choice at that time.
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I was recently wandering around a big university campus, and I couldn't help but wonder if I missed out. I saw all of these students who were hanging out in the Starbucks laughing at inside jokes. I even saw a group of girls making videos. But then I also saw a kid who looked like he was going to go prematurely bald from pulling his own hair out while studying. I might have missed out on the college camaraderie, but I’m pretty sure I dodged a bullet not having to prepare for finals.
With any big life decision you make there will always be those moments of doubt. But you have to let yourself get to the heart of what you want. Take the time to imagine your dream life — write about it, draw it, whatever it takes to really picture it — and then go do it.
For me personally, I love being Paige McKenzie. Even if it is difficult to describe to the outside world what I do. I love being creative in all different formats. I love daydreaming about the farm. I love knowing that one day I could have a job that doesn’t even exist yet. It’s up to us to create this new world, and I can’t think of a more exciting challenge.
Paige McKenzie is the YouTube star and New York Times bestselling author behind the enormously successful Sunshine Girl series. In 2010, the then 16-year-old McKenzie teamed up with producer Nick Hagen and her mother, actress Mercedes Rose, to record an episodic series of paranormal-themed videos, which soon had millions of fans. Signed to The Weinstein Company, McKenzie has been covered by Entertainment Weekly, The Today Show, Seventeen, The New York Times, USA Today, TIME and others. Her YouTube channel today boasts more than 250-million total views, averages 7.5-million unique views per month and maintains more than 500,000 monthly subscribers. McKenzie lives in Portland, OR.
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