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别再问孩子“长大后你想做什么”

别再问孩子“长大后你想做什么”

2019年4月17日

“长大后你想做什么?”
在我的孩提时代,我害怕这个问题。我从未给出一个好的回答。大人们似乎总是非常失望,因为我并没有梦想成为什么大人物或是英雄,比如电影人或是宇航员。
在大学里,我终于意识到我不想做某一件事。我想做很多事情。所以我找到了一个变通方法:我成为了一名组织心理学家。我的工作是去改善别人的工作。我得以间接体验到它们——我已得以探索电影人如何探索新路、宇航员如何建立信任。并且我已经确信,问孩子们他们想做什么是对他们的一种伤害。
对于这个问题我的第一个不满是,它逼迫孩子们用一种工作来定义自己。当你被问到长大以后想做什么时,回答“一个父亲”、“一个母亲”在社交意义上是不可接受的,更不要说“一个正直的人”了。这可能是为什么许多家长声称,他们自己认为孩子最重要的价值是关心他人,但他们的孩子认为最重要的是成功。当我们用职业来定义自己时,我们的价值取决于我们取得了什么成就。
第二个问题在于这样一种暗示,即人人都有属于自己的一样天职。尽管拥有天职会是一种欢乐之源,但研究显示,寻找天职会让学生们感到迷茫和困惑。而且即便你足够幸运碰上了一样天职,它也可能不是个可行的职业。我和同事已经发现,天职的召唤常常得不到回应:很多职业梦想无法支付账单,并且我们中的很多人就是没有那个天赋。喜剧演员克里斯·洛克(Chris Rock)在听到一名管理人员告诉刚入校的高中生,他们可以成为任何他们想成为的人时,他问道,“女士,你为什么要骗这些孩子?”也许他们中有四人可能会成为任何他们想成为的人。但其他2000人最好学会怎么焊接。他接着说:“跟孩子说实话。你可以去做任何你擅长的事——前提是他们在招人。”
如果你能克服这些障碍,还有第三道:职业很少能达到你童年梦想的期望。在一项研究中,寻找理想工作让高年级大学生在整个过程中感到更加焦虑、压抑、无力和沮丧——并对结果更加不满。如蒂姆·厄本(Tim Urban)所写,幸福等于现实状况减去期望值。如果你寻找的是狂喜,那么你注定会失望。这可以解释这样的研究,它表明在经济衰退期毕业的大学生30年后工作满足感会更强:他们不觉得有份工作是理所当然的事情。
低期望值的一个好处是,它们能消弭我们所想与所得之间的差距。大量证据表明,与其把一份工作想象得很美好,还不如在入职时贴合实际地预想一下它真实的样子,并且毫无保留。当然,你在接手时可能会少些激动,但平均而言,你最后的收获会更大,也不容易退出。奥普拉说得好:“你的工作永远不会让你感到满足。”
我完全支持年轻人力争上游、志存高远。但听听以研究“工作”为生的人的建议吧:这些志向应当不局限于工作。问孩子他们想当什么会使他们去追求一个他们也许永远都不想争取的职业身份。相反,请他们思考一下他们想成为什么样的人——并想想他们可能想做的各种不同的事情。


本文最初发表于2019年4月1日。

本文英文版。

Stop Asking Kids What They Want to Be When They Grow Up
The question forces children to define themselves in terms of work.

April 1, 2019

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

When I was a kid, I dreaded the question. I never had a good answer. Adults always seemed terribly disappointed that I wasn’t dreaming of becoming something grand or heroic, like a filmmaker or an astronaut.

In college, I finally realized that I didn’t want to be one thing. I wanted to do many things. So I found a workaround: I became an organizational psychologist. My job is to fix other people’s jobs. I get to experience them vicariously — I’ve gotten to explore how filmmakers blaze new trails and how astronauts build trust. And I’ve become convinced that asking youngsters what they want to be does them a disservice.

My first beef with the question is that it forces kids to define themselves in terms of work. When you’re asked what you want to be when you grow up, it’s not socially acceptable to say, “A father,” or, “A mother,” let alone, “A person of integrity.” This might be one of the reasons many parents say their most important value for their children is to care about others, yet their kids believe that top value is success. When we define ourselves by our jobs, our worth depends on what we achieve.

The second problem is the implication that there is one calling out there for everyone. Although having a calling can be a source of joy, research shows that searching for one leaves students feeling lost and confused. And even if you’re lucky enough to stumble onto a calling, it might not be a viable career. My colleagues and I have found that callings often go unanswered: Many career passions don’t pay the bills, and many of us just don’t have the talent. After the comedian Chris Rock heard an administrator tell entering high schoolers they could be anything they want to be, he asked, “Lady, why are you lying to these children?” Maybe four of them could be anything they want to be. But the other 2,000 had better learn how to weld. He added: “Tell the kids the truth. You can be anything you’re good at — as long as they’re hiring.”

If you manage to overcome those obstacles, there is a third hurdle: Careers rarely live up to your childhood dreams. In one study, looking for the ideal job left college seniors feeling more anxious, stressed, overwhelmed and depressed throughout the process — and less satisfied with the outcome. As Tim Urban writes, happiness is reality minus expectations. If you’re looking for bliss, you’re bound to be disappointed. This explains research showing that people who graduate from college during a recession are more satisfied with their work three decades later: They don’t take it for granted that they have a job.

The upside of low expectations is that they erase the gap between what we wanted and what we got. Extensive evidence shows that instead of painting a rosy picture of a job, you’re better off going in with a realistic preview of what it’s really like, warts and all. Sure, you might be a little less excited to take it, but on average you end up more productive and less likely to quit. Oprah said it best: “Your job is not always going to fulfill you.”

I’m all for encouraging youngsters to aim high and dream big. But take it from someone who studies work for a living: those aspirations should be bigger than work. Asking kids what they want to be leads them to claim a career identity they might never want to earn. Instead, invite them to think about what kind of person they want to be — and about all the different things they might want to do.

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