What problems do you want to solve?

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

“Where do you see yourself in 5 years?”

“What are your goals for the next 3, 6 and 12 months?”

All of these questions have struck me wrong since I was young.  

I was the kid who would respond, “How am I supposed to know what I want to be when I grow up?  I’m 8!”

People’s answers are generally skewed, at best, in order to meet what they perceive the questioner’s desired response to be.  What would people have thought if I would have said, “I want to be an IT Professional!”?

Granted, at 8, I didn’t know that’s what I wanted to be.

It wasn’t until very recently that I started pondering why these questions annoy me.  

Anyone who’s ever met me for longer than five minutes can tell you: I’m a planner. I thrive on routine. I like to be in control. I’m a task-driven, get-it-done type of person.  If I’m so organized, why wouldn’t I want to stop and think about my future goals and dreams?

I was stumped.

Perhaps I prefer to focus on checking things off today’s to-do list.  

I do get great appreciation in marking things off of my to-do list, but my wise mother has told me for every item I mark off of my to-do list, 10 are added.  I maintain there’s a magic algorithm that exponentially multiplies these tasks with each child you have.  Something I continue to strive for and fail miserably at is living more in-the-moment, slowing down and appreciating the here and now.

Maybe I don’t want to focus on the future because it’s something I can’t fully control?

There’s a possibility I don’t want to spend the time and energy looking into the future too much because that takes imagination and creativity, and those aren’t my strong points.

Or, feasibly, I don’t want to spend too much time and energy focusing on the future in case it doesn’t turn out as I planned.  I don’t like being wrong.

I’m a realist, and realistically speaking, nobody knows as a matter of fact what they’ll be doing in 3, 6, 9 or 12 months, let alone 5 years.  Things happen.  Plans change.

I was still muddling through the potential reasons for my annoyance at these questions when the answer smacked me in the face, by way of a meme on Facebook:

“Don’t ask kids what they want to be when they grow up but what problems they want to solve.  This changes the conversation from who do I want to work for, to what do I need to learn to be able to that.” – Jaime Casap, Google Global Education Evangelist

THAT’S IT! Thank you, Jaime Casap!

Set a goal, figure out what you need to do to accomplish the goal, and don’t sweat the small stuff along the journey.  

Ask yourself, how much will this matter in five days, five weeks, five months and five years?  Once you have your answer, respond accordingly.

So, I think I’ll start to answer all of these questions as if I heard, “What problems do you want to solve?”  And, that, is a question I don’t mind answering.  My answers will change as I evolve, personally and professionally, and that’s okay – even expected.


Since 2011, Joanna Iturbe has served as the Senior Software Applications and Project Manager for Leeds Technology Services where she is the senior technical expert and manager in leading the development, configuration, installation, upgrade, delivery and day-to-day management and maintenance of applications at the Leeds School of Business at the University of Colorado Boulder.  Her certifications include Salesforce Administrator, Salesforce Developer, Database Management and Project Management. She is on the Girlforce Leadership Team and is active in the Denver Women In Tech, Denver Nonprofit and Denver Salesforce user groups.  Joanna serves as Co-Chair on the Boulder Campus Staff Council (BCSC) and is a delegate on the University of Colorado (System) Staff Council (UCSC). Joanna enjoys skiing, traveling, hiking and camping with her husband and daughters.