Today I helped with a school visit. Primary school children coming to 3M to learn about our technologies, try some challenges, and learn about careers. The latter is where I came in; sat down ready to talk about school, education, and how it all leads into careers.

I started with the usual; “how’s your day so far?”, “what are your favourite subjects?” etc. These were soon followed with the classic “what do you want to be when you grow up?”.

I was shocked by how quickly this question stood out as something ridiculous. What was I expecting them to say? Of course, they had answers, but they didn’t have a set plan or know what the job even involved sometimes. It’s a question we always ask children, sometimes far too seriously. Here’s the good and bad side of that question.

Bad – They felt ashamed when they couldn’t answer

Their heads dropped and volume lowered as they timidly said they didn’t know. They said it as if it was an incorrect answer, as if they would get in trouble. They believed they should know and be able to tell me exactly what they wanted to do in 20 years time. It’s obvious how ridiculous this is, yet for some reason they felt that way.

Those that knew spoke proudly about it.

Good – They still dare to dream

“Either a doctor or an 800m Olympian”, “a DJ”, “a robot builder”, “a world famous engineer”.

These were some of the answers that greeted me. I was shocked by the number of kids that wanted to be the best in their future career and actually thought they would be – and why not think that!

Ask them in another 10 years time and the answer might be a similar field but with less ambition or purpose, and that annoys me.

They don’t fear big ambition or dreams, they know they have a big future ahead of them and they are willing to say it! If only more of us could continue with that trait.


Perhaps it is good to ask the question, to people of all ages. But support uncertainty and encourage ambition. Nothing is certain, nothing is unachievable. The more we can encourage children to dare to dream, the more that actually will when they do eventually grow up.