What did you want to be when you grew up?

One of my favorite questions to ask people is, “what did you want to do ‘when you grew up’?  And if you didn’t end up doing that, do you know why?” It’s rare that I’ve spoken to someone who has said, “I wanted to be mid-level call center manager, supervising a team of people who show up to work only when they feel like it, fill out myriads of forms all day, taking hundreds of calls from angry people, all while sitting in a gray/beige/taupe colored cubicle for at least fifty hours a week, earning just enough money to pay my mortgage and put food on the table; and here I am now, doing exactly that, living the dream.”

For years I interviewed people every day, asking about their career goals. There were a handful of brave souls who would sometimes admit that their dream job was to play Major League Baseball or sing with an opera company. Almost everyone gave me the answer they knew they had to give to pass the interview. It always made me sad, I would think, really? The biggest dream you had was to get a sensible, corporate job so that you could just barely pay your bills? But I had done the same. I gave up my dream of becoming a writer back in college because I convinced myself that I needed to focus on something realistic, sensible and stable. I changed my major with a knot in my stomach and a gnawing feeling that I was making a mistake, a feeling I forced myself to ignore for years.

As we get older, are our dreams for ourselves changing, or are we willingly resigning to settle for less? And do we make peace with that, or do we carry regret? I understand that at some point, we’ve created a life for ourselves that we cannot walk away from; we have responsibilities and commitments. We also have to be realistic about where we’re at in life; it may not be practical to play in the NFL at age forty-five (though I’d personally love to see Brett Favre come back), or feasible to earn a law degree while you’re currently paying for your son’s college tuition. However, could we still reclaim some of our old dreams in a new way? I’m quite sure Time Magazine won’t be knocking down my door to write feature pieces for them, but I decided to write anyway. Maybe you won’t dance with the New York City Ballet, but you could take an adult ballet class at a local studio. Your art may never be displayed at the Guggenheim, but your family might love to see it hanging in the foyer.

I still love to ask people that question – and I want to ask it to you today. What did you dream of being when you grew up? Did you pursue that dream, or did you trade it in for something else, and do you know why? Is there some way you could still reclaim your dream, even in some small way? Please share your story with me, I love understanding what makes us tick and why we make the choices we do, and I love hearing from you!

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Wherever you’re dreaming, I hope it’s from a fancy swingy bed on a beach somewhere.


2 thoughts on “What did you want to be when you grew up?

  1. Most people settle, I agree. Usually a little at a time. People forget they are granted one life: one! And it ends far sooner than they like to think. I had no particular dream as a kid: I liked too many things to pick one. Eventually, I found goals I’d never have imagined back then, but they’re great, exciting, fulfilling. Circumstances play a role in life, of course, but we make our lives, and we live with the results. When we pretend otherewise, we shape ourselves into victims. Regardless of circumstances, we can make ourselves more, or less. Our choices matter.

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