How much should we care about what other people think of us? When it comes to work, how many people work harder because they want external approval, recognition and reward? And how much of it is internally driven? Is this a good or bad thing for society?
A lot of people put a lot of their identity into their job. When you can name what you do in a few words and it gives you a socially admired status, often that is a feeling that people want to replicate. So we find ways to explain our identity in terms of what we do for a living.
For some people, work is their life. They love it, it's their passion. I admire these people. For others, particularly those in the caring professions, it's like a calling - they want to use their talents and skills to help others in a meaningful way. For some, it's just a means to an end, a way to pay the bills in order to get on with the real business of living. I don't think any of these represent the right or wrong way of doing things. But when people use their jobs as a way of exerting power, claiming superiority, or flashing the trappings of their "success" - no. And sometimes I think putting undue pressure on kids (especially from parents) to know what they want to be can cause them to think they have to go for something that others will approve of, rather than what they really want to do. I also acknowledge that it takes a certain privilege to assume that you will be able to follow your passion and still support yourself, and that sometimes the source of parental pressure is an underlying anxiety about poverty. But sometimes, it is about living up to social expectations.
Of course I want my kids to develop a love of learning, and to be contributing members of society. But more than that, I want them to feel fulfilled by their own personal definition of success. I don't want them to worry about having to explain their occupation to people. For me, what you do is interesting only in so far as you think it is, and it doesn't matter whether you are the CEO or the janitor, if you treat people well and have the courage of your convictions.
When I asked my kids what they would like to be when they grow up, Ms 4 ran through a list of options, and finally said, "I think I just want to be a plain person." In a world where so much of our validation still rests on what we do, I reckon being a plain person is a great thing to aim for.