I wonder how many times over the course of our childhood we are asked “What do you want to be when you grown up?” There probably isn’t a little kid out there who doesn’t like answering that question. They have the whole world at their fingertips, and their ambitions will not be shot down: astronaut, superhero, zoo keeper, dog walker, president of the United States.
In college we’re asked a slightly different version of the question: “What do you plan to do as a career once you get out of here?” For some reason this is suddenly terrifying. It’s immense pressure to put on someone who had a hard enough time settling on a major (who, me?). Ironically, we’ve had our entire lives to think about it. Why not become an astronaut, zoo keeper or president like we wanted to? We just don’t. Our big career dreams don’t mix well with reality. We start to learn about salary, benefits, job flexibility and other factors when it comes to career. There’s nothing wrong with that, but we stop placing value on the things we love to do and imagine would make us happy. There goes everything off our list. Dog walkers probably don’t have 401k retirement plans, and superheroes probably don’t see their families much.
Then somewhere along the way, they stop asking us that question altogether. I’m 26 and I’ve hit this point in life. But according to what I’ve read and heard in recent years, the most interesting people are adults who still don’t know what they want to do in life. Perhaps not knowing is ok, but not dreaming anymore (that you could be the president of this country) is a problem.
As a writer and editor, I’ve pinched myself that I’ve already accomplished my life goals and I could die happily now. I thought all I had ever wanted to be was a writer. But last week I came across an old notebook wedged in the back of a file cabinet. Boy did I have a good laugh when I saw the list on page one: “Careers for the future…..” it said in my 10-year-old handwriting. Even I was surprised by what I learned about my career dreams. Take a minute to have a chuckle yourself (actual spelling is preserved).
1. Be in the orcestra
2. Be a instrument star
3. Dance in the D,J,S dance
4. Be an actress
6. Anterreir decorater for Victorian homes
8. Photogher of travel
9. Photoghy (of things)
10. Architexual historian
12. Photoghofer of under water
13. Deliver babies
16. Animal tender (bears)
17. Mareen biologer
18. Front desksmen of places
19. Animal trainer
First of all, it’s interesting that my career now is number 14 on the list, though I’m not sure this was written in a particular order. Secondly, I enjoyed realizing that while I didn’t make a career of most of these (yet), in some way, I’ve accomplished a few of these things. For instance, No. 1 & 2: I was in the concert and jazz bands throughout high school and was named “the first seat saxophone” player. In some ways, I’ve accomplished No. 7, too, by teaching fitness classes.
This list gives glimpses into things that are still interests of mine: travel, animals, water, history, dancing, music. Likewise, a lot of these items actually don’t resonate with me anymore. Designer? Actress? No thanks. But I still love dancing after all these years. I’m thinking that I don’t have to make a career as dancer, but I could sign up for a dance class.
Maybe we should keep asking ourselves and each other what we want to be when we grow up. Not only is it a way to feel young at heart, that you have a lot of life left to live, but because we never stop evolving. Write your list right now. Then take a class. Buy a ‘zoo keeper for dummies’ book. Take little steps to get that “big career dream” in your life somehow.
What do you want to be when you grow up?
Do you love what you do for a career? Truly love it.
What would you do for a job if you could do anything?
Are you doing what you wanted to do in your life?
Did you “fall into” your career or was it the result of careful planning?