COMMENTARY: Be What You Want to Be

“What will you be when you grow up?”

It’s a serious question. As kids, we knew we were going to be something and that to be something was to be someone. Even as our ambitions changed, we knew what we were going to be was important and our choice.

When I entered UCLA Law School in 1964, I wanted to do good. Yet when I graduated three years later, I just wanted to do well. My life’s mission had changed, not as the result of conscious choice but as a surrender to the momentum of an elaborate matchmaking ritual: the ultimate competition to get job offers from themost prestigious employers and to attain the most hard-to-get jobs.

Money was definitely a factor, as almost all of us had student loans to pay off, but the larger force was a desire for validation. I was, by inclination and training, highly competitive. Getting a coveted job was the ultimate trophy. Intoxicated with a desire to win, I abandoned my wish of being significant in favor of being successful.

I was lucky. The tax firm I wanted didn’t make me an offer, so I took a teaching position at the University of Michigan Law School. I discovered I loved teaching and stayed with it for nearly 20 years before I founded an ethics institute in honor of my parents.

You may start out intending to be the captain, but if you’re not careful, you may find yourself drifting in another direction, a passenger on your own ship. Your life is too important to be little.

Be what you want to be.

This is Michael Josephson reminding you that character counts.

Comments 5

  1. Should we be what we want to be? Or what we were born to be? If we’re born to be something in particular, is that what we will instinctively want? Or might it not take time for us to discover what we want and begin to do it? As you say, you were lucky because you didn’t get the chance to be what you wanted to be. You wanted to be a tax lawyer, Mr. Josephson, but you were born to teach and to found your institute. If you had become what you wanted to be and not what you were born to be, you wouldn’t have had the beneficial influence you’ve had. And thank you for it.

  2. Great thoughts,the reason why Iwas drawn to read this thoguth is because of the title. I was hoping I get more out of it. May be you can help me on an issue related to doing what one wwants to be. What about those who are in their 40’s and still have no clue of their career path? I got lots on interest but so far I still haven found my life purpose. Would you say I may leave this earth without finding my passion? How does one identifies his/her nitch in life? Sometimes I feel lost, with out a purpose in life. I hope you can provide me with some advise. You and the rest of the people out there who know what they want out f life, their passiion, nitch, are all they need to be and feel successful. Thanks for your early morning commentaries.

    1. Sara,

      Don’t pursue what you think you want to do; don’t look at the dollar signs. I always say follow your heart not you cognitive drive. I college a person studies what they think will get them the big job, but they love history and philosophy. Follow what you love and the riches will be in the happiness of making a difference. I would bet you would be happy in non profit occupation.


  3. I’m a career U.S. Marine Corps Officer retired. While in the USMC I was courted to apply for an unrestricted commission and give up my Warrant Officer appointment. I didn’t, I was doing what I loved to do and believed I was making a difference. I earned the coveted Chief Warrant Officer Five grade and I am elated with my contribution (in my specialty) to make the Corps, after I retired, a better place. I became a law enforcement instructor in Kentucky and I was promoted but reverted to instructor status because that is who I am, being promoted was who I thought I wanted to be. I had value conflict and was unhappy with my new responsibilities. Being promoted I didn’t see myself making the difference I could as an instructor. Moreover, I could have stayed In Washington, D.C., and made 4X’s the money but not making a difference. Michael is correct.

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