What do you want to be when you grow up?

Photo by Casey Horner on Unsplash.com

Let me preempt this by saying that I’m 40 years old and still don’t know what I want to be when I grow up. What does it mean, anyways? Here’s what I think about this question:

  1. There is no one answer.
  2. There is no right answer.
  3. Your answer can change over time.
  4. What age does “grown up” even indicate?

I know there are quite a few of you who know you like Japanese but aren’t sure what you want to do in your life in general. You may still be in school, or you may be graduated for a decade or more and still not know what you like. You may have a general idea of what strikes your fancy, but you definitely haven’t considered that you could actually work at a job doing things that you like. 

The bad news is that no one can make this decision for you.

The scary news is that you have to make progress in one direction, one step at a time, to even get to any sort of conclusion. Even worse (can it get any worse?!), you will make mistakes, and you will fall – but it’s those falls that help you grow and become a stronger and better person. Besides, 

  • How can you know if you like skiing if you’ve never tried? 
  • How can you decide if you want to use Japanese language/culture when you’ve never researched it, talked about it, or tried it? 
  • How do you know that you don’t like natto (fermented soybeans) if you don’t try? (That last one is almost a trick question… but I’ll have you know that I tried it seven different times with various ingredients and eventually decided that I actually do enjoy eating the smelly, sticky food!)


When I was job-searching in Japan, I learned about a process called 自己分析 (jiko bunseki), which basically means to analyze yourself in order to help with the job search. Of course this is an important process to go through, but when I was in my 20s, I had no idea how to answer this.  I had barely lived enough, so how was I to know what my passion was in life?

Looking back now, I realize that I knew the answer to the question of what I wanted to be when I grow up- but I overanalyzed it. I thought I had to come up with THE perfect answer that would be accepted by my family, professors, future employer, and society in general. Here’s what my current self would tell my younger self at that critical time in my life:

  • Don’t overthink it!
  • “Perfect” doesn’t exist. Focus on “good enough.”
  • Progress is the most important, otherwise you will get stuck on the need to find the “perfect.”

Here’s an example

Let’s say you are currently working in an administrative position that probably is a great job and definitely helps pay the bills. Yet a part of you really wants to use Japanese, and you just don’t know where to start. Ask yourself some questions:

  • Does your current company have any interactions with Japanese co-workers or customers so that you could come up with ideas to interact with them?
  • Does your current company have any international locations?
  • Are the tasks and responsibilities at your current job sufficient to easily slide over to another company, but one that has Japanese interactions?
  • Do you have a hobby involving Japanese that could possibly become a mini-money maker while you work your current job?

It doesn’t have to be your dream job; it just needs to be a step in the right direction. Besides, each of these steps will help take you to one more step, and you may discover a different “dream job” along the way. Be curious and excited for what could happen!

Note: You also don’t need to be “fluent” nor an “expert,” but you should have the eagerness to want to learn. I wasn’t born knowing Japanese, nor English or Polish – but like walking, I fell down many times until I could move around. Same with a job; you have to start somewhere. Eventually you will get to the next destination. If you’re not learning, you’re not living your life.

As for me, I choose to think positively in a bucket-list sort of way. There are so many things I want to try or “be,” and that list changes as I grow older and gain experiences. Of course I want to try many things. Not every one of them will work for me, but if I don’t try – how will I know? For example, here are some things I’ve considered in my life:

  • I dreamed of becoming a conference interpreter after watching Nicole Kidman in the movie entitled The Interpreter, and spent many years trying it on the job and as a freelancer. I don’t regret those years, and instead am grateful for the experience because I did learn over time that such a career was not for me. 
  • I always wondered if I could become a professional organizer, but after reading about it at length and reaching out to actual organizers to hear their thoughts, I decided it wasn’t for me. I wasn’t ready to step into other people’s homes and tell them how to deal with emotional attachments to their stuff.
  • I love personal finance so much and thought it might be interesting to work in the financial industry, but after many “free advice” discussions with friends, I decided that it was too “personal” for me to get involved in other people’s lives. If I never had those conversations, I would be left wondering “what if” about using personal finance as a career.

I may continue to ask myself these questions as I get older, and my answers may continue to surprise me, but the important thing is to remain curious and willing to try new things. 

So what ONE THING could you try now? It could be scary as heck, but what’s the worst that could happen? 

  • Lovers of manga/anime: is there a company in your city that translates, publishes or imports them?
  • Lovers of Japanese history/culture: is there a company in your area that caters to Japanese tourists? What about a travel agency that sends people to travel in Japan? Or maybe there is a language school that needs someone to teach their students about the culture without necessarily using the language?
  • Lovers of Japanese food: is there a Japanese restaurant, ramen shop or bakery that needs some part-time help? Could you start a cooking class with a couple of people in your home, and maybe invite a Japanese friend to come teach you how to make something?
  • Lovers of Japanese language: could you provide English essay proofreading services to Japanese students (whether in Japan or your country)? If translation is too scary, what about localization (where you adopt content for regional consumption)?

Be creative, and don’t overthink it!

Photo by Bryan Minear on Unsplash

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

  1. Thankyou Kasia, It feels so great after reading your blog and it literally motivated me. Now, I can clearly think what my ikigai could be !

  2. Abhilash Valiyaveetil

    It is motivating and heartwarming to read what you’ve written. And thank you for the reassurance that learning, improving oneself and experiencing life as it flows is what that matters.

    Thank you Kasia San.

  3. Ikigai Connections

    Abhilash-san, thank you so much for reading and commenting! I keep trying to remind myself that life is a journey, not a destination – but it’s rather difficult 😉

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