What are you going to be when you grow up?

This is the question that has alternately bedeviled or inspired young people _ particularly those completing their high school educations _ for generations.

Themes for high school graduation speeches tend to dwell on the fact that graduates are embarking on a new path, setting out on their own and making their way in the world for the first time. And that conversation inevitably leads to talk about jobs.

If recent history offers any clues to the future, the young people graduating from high school this year will be many things when they "grow up."

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics has been tracking a group of 10,000 Americans since 1979, when they were between 14 and 22 years old.

"So far, members of the group have held 10.8 jobs, on average, between ages 18 and 42," the Wall Street Journal reported in 2010.

That's an average of a new job every couple of years.

So how are young people supposed to plan for a lifetime of jumping from job to job _ particularly in a shaky economy?

It's not realistic to expect every high school graduate to have his or her entire career mapped out by the time they don a cap and gown. Heck, there are plenty of college graduates out there who are still struggling with that concept. But there are decisions that will have to be made.

For students entering college, they will soon be selecting classes and, eventually, deciding on a major. Other students will be entering the work force or the military. Some will begin a program of volunteer service with an organization such as Americorps or VISTA. Still others will be idle, trying to figure out the next step.

Each choice they make as they set out on these first steps of adulthood will influence the direction of their lives.

We live in a world that changes rapidly. Today's high school graduates barely knew a world without the Internet, cellphones and social media. We can't imagine the changes they will witness during their lifetimes.

So, rather than asking graduates what they want to be when they grow up, we ask them:

What do you love?

What are you good at?

What are you passionate about?

What brings you satisfaction?

If today's graduates can find ways to spend their lives doing the things that answer these questions, it will not matter how often they change jobs, or how many degrees they hold.

If today's graduates can achieve such a marriage of ability and affinity, they will be able to respond to the question, "What are you going to be when you grow up?" with the best answer of all:


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