When I grow up...

The question had been asked of me countless times. My parents, teachers, and even my friends seemed relentless in their quest to understand my deepest ambitions and translate them into a simple career goal. As hard as I tried, I just couldn’t answer their “what are you going to be?” question.

I was 8. I dwelled on the matter. I fretted that I had not defined my future, because clearly I was expected to have done this already! No one ever asked, “Do you know what you want to be when you grow up?” Instead, they asked what I would become and I floundered. In spite of the pressure, I felt like I just couldn’t understand myself and draft plans for my future yet.

I had very few careers to examine as a child. I had a children’s book about careers, loaded with racist and sexist portrayals of professionals – I remember it vividly: the white male doctor, the black male garbage collector, and the white female teacher. Even at 8, the book disturbed me. I also had neighbors – most of the men (including my father) performed white-collar mystery jobs hidden inside large brick buildings, and most of the women were stay-at-home moms.

My real-world experience was limited. I rarely ventured outside of our tiny neighborhood in our tiny town. Exceptions were annual road trips two states away to see one set of grandparents, and monthly trips 30 minutes outside of town to visit the other set.

It was during one of those monthly visits to my grandparents’ farm that I had my first, and possibly my only, career awakening. My grandfather had set me on the back of a small horse and was giving me direction as I neck reined the magnificent animal around the barnyard. I had always been a horse-crazy child, and for the first time in my life, I had the reins in my hands. This was no circular pony ride. This was wild, authentic and exhilarating! In that moment I declared that when I grew up I wanted to be a jockey.

Within a few years, the dream started to fade. I still loved horses, but I was tall and sturdy and not likely to ever fit the physical requirements of a jockey. I picked up skills and hobbies throughout 17 years of school, but I never plunged deeply into anything. I graduated college and worked for various companies. Kids came along, and I became pretty good at juggling my life. Each job I have had pretty much fell in my lap, and it’s no surprise to me now that I still don’t know what I want to do with my life other than live happily each day. I am a Jill of all trades, master of none… an appreciated and underpaid Girl Friday with an arsenal of miscellaneous abilities. And for the most part, that’s ok with me.

I ask my kids now, “Do you know what you want to do when you grow up?”

Animal-loving Leo, 7, says she is going to be a veterinarian. And maybe a jockey. (I just smile.)

5-year old Will wants to be a worker. What kind of worker? A hard worker.

And his sweet twin Izzy, the free-spirited dreamer, wants to be a bean cutter. She draws pictures of her smiling self cutting beans off of plants with tiny scissors.

The kids have some great ideas. Maybe I’ll be a bean cutter too when I grow up.



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  • I never understood what was wrong with liking several professions. I plan on having several in my lifetime. I love asking my kids what they think my husband does at work. They are convinced he plays the guitar at work. He is a marketing and promotions manager... The innocence of youth! Great post!

  • I used to wish I was one of those people who was born knowing what they wanted to do--be a doctor, lawyer, etc. Now I've accepted the fact that it may still take me a few more years to figure it all out, and I hope to enjoy the ride!

  • I, too, have been agonizing over what to do with my life. Thankfully by having children so darn early, I have been able to artfully, and sometimes clumsily, dodge that question for years. However, my baby is in first grade and I still don't know. Dre, tell little Izzy that I will join her outside in her idyllic little world, side by side, cutting beans. And I'll be smiling, too.

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