What Do You Want to be When You Grow Up?

While on a walk in our neighbourhood earlier this week, my daughter, Julia, suddenly announced to me that she has decided what she wants to be when she grows up. She said, “Mommy, I am going to be an inventor, and also a police woman.” She smiled at me and skipped along the sidewalk and didn’t say anything more about it.

The following day, in the car, Julia brought up the subject again. She told me she definitely wants to be an inventor. She said she already has a whole bunch of things she wants to invent, like a special kind of stroller and a time machine. Julia is very sure of herself and possesses a special kind of confidence and charisma that I lack. She is a little girl, who loves to play with her dolls and swing in the park. But she is also sophisticated and shows me hints of the woman she will be one day.

Julia made me think about what I wanted to be when I grew up and how my ambitions changed over the years. There are many children who know early on what they want to be when they grow up and actually do follow through. There are many children who don’t think about this at a young age but eventually find their way to success. Then there’s people like me.

When I was Julia’s age, I decided I wanted to be a doctor. I had no idea what it meant to study at medical school or be an actual physician, but through most of my childhood and teenage years I was sure of my future. As I have written in previous posts, I eventually realized that a career in medicine was not for me and switched to a career path centred on writing and communications. I have jumped around that path for many years, but at age 41, I now know I made the right choice.

It must be very hard for children and youth today to make a decision about what they want to be when they grow up. There is no job security and people are retiring at a later age and holding on to those precious few jobs. Many young people are seeing their dreams crushed when they can’t find a job or make any money with the career of their choice.

But that doesn’t mean we should not encourage our children to dream and to dream big. I remember many years ago, when my parents asked me, my brother and sister what we wanted to be when we grew up. My brother was into Lego at the time (okay he still is but that’s for another day) and answered he wanted to be an architect. I stated that I wanted to be a doctor. Then my sister, who was quite young at the time, announced that her dream was to be a cocktail waitress.

This became a family joke for a long time, but I give my parents credit. At the time, they didn’t laugh at my little sister or put her down. They simply told her, in a very sweet way, to follow her dream. My sister did not become a cocktail waitress, but she did grow up to be a successful and much admired entrepreneur who runs her own business, helps other people grow their businesses, is a busy mother to three young boys and an incredible athlete.

When Julia told me she wanted to be an inventor and a police woman I smiled at her and simply told her to follow her dream. Sure, it sounds a bit silly, but I want my daughter to be whatever she wants to be when she grows up. I want all three of my kids to be whatever they want to be when they grow up.

Little Nessa is only 15 months old, and her dream, at this point in her life, is to grow up and be just like her big brother and sister. Her pediatrician, by coincidence, shares her name. The staff are always amused when Nessa’s name is called, when Dr. Nessa treats Baby Nessa. When at the doctor this week, Dr. Nessa joked with me that she paused for a moment when Baby Nessa’s name was called. I laughed and looked at my baby and said to her, “You are not Dr. Nessa, you are just Baby Nessa.” Then it was my turn to pause, and I looked at my little baby and said to her, “But one day, you can be Dr. Nessa if that’s what you wish.”

What do you want to be when you grow up? My advice, whatever you wish.