What do you want to be when you grow up?

No one ever asked me that question, which was a damn good thing because I didn’t have a clue. I don’t think I was alone in this. Most people don’t fall into the category of precocious ten-year olds who say they are going to be a marine biologist then grow up to become one. I didn’t have a clue when I entered high school. I didn’t have a clue when I finished high school. I still didn’t have a clue after working for a year but I decided to go to community college, which was cheap or possibly free back then because, at that time, they called it vocational school.

“Why do you want to be a secretary?” I was asked this question at my entrance interview to a one-year crash course in office management. A course that included typing, short hand, book keeping, business English and how to make file folders look pretty or perfect or businesslike or whatever it was we did in that class. “I don’t,” I replied. “I just want to pick up some skills so I can get a decent job until I figure out what I want to do.” I was very surprised when they let me into the program. So I went, did a bit of shit disturbing with my friend Darlene, had a lot of fun, never did learn to spell no matter how hard they tried to teach me and finally became a secretary. Four years later, bored stiff while working as one of two secretaries for the president at a local university, I discovered the shelf of Canada-wide course calendars in the Registrar’s Office. I was twenty three and it was time for a career change.

My mother wanted me to be a nurse. She had a thing for a crisp white uniform and because she didn’t become one herself, she wanted me to live her dream. A NURSE! ME! A person who ruminated on things for obsessively long periods of time. A person who really, really, really didn’t like waiting on other people. And a person who didn’t like to be told what to do. A Nurse! You have got to be kidding. Nothing against nurses. I just wasn’t cut out to be one. Not to mention that I had spent a few young years working part-time at a medical clinic that had its share of cocky physicians with a god complex. There was no effing way I wanted to spend my life around doctors unless I could be a doctor and that certainly wouldn’t work with my science-challenged brain. 

To put it all in prospective, I grew up in rural Nova Scotia in the 60’s and 70’s. A place and time when options for women were usually limited to teaching, nursing and office work. The other option was to become a pharmacist. Pharmacists run in my family. My mother became a pharmacist. My birth father was a pharmacist. I have an uncle who was a pharmacist and one of my older brothers became a pharmacist. Pill counters and drug runners. (Ok drug store runners. There is a difference.) But I was not interested. Plus, I was going into debt for my own education, so I felt I had the right to choose what, when and where.

Well I disappointed my mother and I am sure she never forgave me. It was all down hill from there. So I really have a problem with parents who think their kids should have it all figured out; and if they don’t, feel it is ok to push them to do something that they probably won’t like. I have a friend who’s son liked computers and was a bit of a geek, which meant he was a nice kid who was smart. The kids in this family were expected to go to university directly out of high school, so we’re talking seventeen or eighteen years old. They decided that this kid should take science. After all, he looked the part. A year later these parents were lamenting over the waste of money for their son’s first year of university because he wanted to change majors. He wanted to study business. He once told me that he had always liked business.

Then there were the parents in my circle who had a daughter that wanted to study science, and they tried to talk her out of it because she was a girl. Honestly, I nearly shit my pants when I heard this. Luckily she got her way, but in the end she followed her mother and became a stay-at-home mom. She has a very opinionated old-fashioned mother.

Another kid I know, who was expected to go directly to university, spent two years partying instead of working on the business degree that his father wanted him to get before he was finally able to quit. This kid is now a successful plumber with his own business. He just needed the time to figure it all out. 

These lucky kids had parents paying for their education. But perhaps because of that, some of these kids didn’t want to disappoint their parents by insisting they get to choose their own careers. Or by waiting until they felt more sure about what they wanted to do. Honestly, what’s the rush to send kids right out of high school to university. If sixty is the new fifty, then eighteen could very well be the new twelve. How many twelve year olds are ready to make those kinds of life decisions?

Over the years, I changed my career and added to my education several times. With each job, I learned new skills and something more about myself. To this day, I still use skills from my first post secondary venture of office management, though short hand and pretty file folders are not among them. Typing has turned out to be one of the best things I have ever learned. How to use a comma is also a useful skill. Then there are things like designing and marketing and writing. Skills that I picked up through further education and during my career journey. Things I had no idea I had an aptitude for at seventeen. I was a very late bloomer. My point is the most of us don’t know what we will end up doing in life. It is normal to change careers these days. My Osteopath used to be a medical sales rep who went back to school in his fifties to change his career. That is admirable. 

This is what I told my son, also a late bloomer: Take your time. You are never too old to change your mind, change your career or go back to school.  

Thank you for reading.

Photo: Tanaphong Toochinda, Unsplash

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21 thoughts on “What do you want to be when you grow up?

  1. Absolutely! I had no clue what I wanted to do, or who I was for the longest time. I went to school for archaeology when I was forty and ended up with a pretty successful career after that. I am sure that if I had studied archaeology in my twenties I would not have been as successful…I would have become an archaeology bum for a few years and eventually drop out to do something else. My point is that the same opportunity at different times in your life can turn out very differently. For me, and by the sounds of it for you too, the later the better.
    I still don’t use commas properly though 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Pretty sound advice. I am the youngest of four boys and all my brothers went to college. I was expected to do the same. I basically went to junior college at 18 to keep my parents off my back (not a good reason to attend school.) After a year, I got my first apartment with a friend and went to work. After a year of dead end jobs, living out of my car part of the time, I came crawling back home with my tail between my legs. Thank goodness I had the luxury of a home to go home to. I went back to college when I was ready with the desire to be there with a goal. No need to rush it.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. wonderful post. I agree that we should try a variety of things before we settle on something we would like to pursue. Surrounded by college freshmen very day, I see the range you describe. Some know exactly what they want to do, while many have no idea and are trying to figure it out as they go along. And some probably should not be in the business school because I don’t think that’s where their heart is. The hope is that at some point they figure it out, but that they enjoy the journey of discovery along the way.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. It took until my mid forties to find a job I loved. It was in sales, something I never thought I would be any good at. I fell into that job by accident. At school it was suggested that I learn to type and do shorthand. I refused, I didn’t want to be a secretary. From school I went into the first if several jobs in the insurance industry. Not because it was my passion but it was what was available for someone of my limited ability.
    I often remind my sons that it doesn’t matter if they don’t find their ideal career straight away. It took me years. Now I’m a live in carer to my mother so the skill I need more than any other is patience.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I settled into the career of a graphic designer in my forties up until retirement. At one point a great opportunity hit me in the face and I got to work from home for almost ten years. Patience is a great skill to have. Also one I don’t have. My mother lives with my brother so you have my utmost respect.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. “You are never too old to change your mind, change your career or go back to school.”
    Good for you! Absolutely correct! Parents can be so fucked up sometimes. I still don’t know what I want to be when I grow up, and I’m 61. It’s never too late.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. I’m 63 soon. I haven’t grown up yet but I am within three years of my career goal – being a pensioner. I think I will enjoy it, pottering round, saving coupons and being rude about young people. To be fair, this is playing to my strengths as procrastination, frugality and rudeness come easily to me.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. This post must be very bracing for those who push their kids too hard to follow their (parents’) dreams! Of course, it’s hard for us to understand the very different world our grandchildren are growing up in. I did read once that it was common to have seven career changes! I guess at 81 I’m on to my seventh. One per decade?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Good for you. I have also changed careers a lot in the past. These days I just enjoy my retired state where I am an occasional blogger.
      Regarding those parents who push their kids, they never read my blog.


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