What do you want to be when you grow up?

When I was 3 years old, my preschool teacher asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. I said, “I want to be a mommy so I can brush my daughter’s hair.” When I was 4 years old, my preschool teacher asked me the same question. This time I told her, “I want to be a mom-mom so I can buy soap – pink soap with a little girl on it.” (My mom-mom had just given me a pink roll-on soap with a little girl on the front.)

By the time I was 7 years old, I wanted to be a famous singer when I grew up. That dream was crushed by the silly little fact that I can’t carry a tune in a bucket.

At 8 years old, after writing my first love poem, I decided I wanted to be a poet when I grew up.

When I was 14 years old, I started listening to the skeptics in my life who said that I would never be able to make it as a writer. They said I should be a lawyer because I loved to argue. So, I decided I wanted to be a lawyer. Until I job shadowed a lawyer friend of my mom’s for a day – I most certainly did *not* want to be lawyer anymore.

At 16, I was accepted as a Creative Writing major at the Philadelphia High School for Creative and Performing Arts. I was back on track with becoming a writer.

And yet I graduated from college with degrees in Elementary Education, Special Education and Psychology.

Since college, I have taught resource room, waitressed, taught preschool, been a stay at home mom, started a jewelry business, been a retail shift supervisor, and am now a freelance writer and editor.

My life has taken many twists and turns over the years and it is only just now, at 32 years old, that I am beginning to figure out what I want to do with the rest of my life. And that’s okay.

From the moment children learn to talk, we start asking them what they want to be when they grow up. And somewhere in between their toddlerhood and teens years, we expect serious answers.

We tell teens that they don’t know anything about the real world because they’ve never had to live in it and yet we send them off to college at 18 expecting them to figure out what they want to do for the rest of their lives . . . and they only have 4 years in which to do it.

How does that make sense?

I know there are some people who know what they want from early on and never waver from it. My cousin is one of them. Since he was still in single digits he knew he was going to be a carpenter, and now in his mid-twenties, that’s exactly what he is doing.

I knew what I wanted from very earlier on, but I allowed myself to be swayed.

And then there are those who just have no effing clue what they want to be when they grow up . . . and that’s okay.

I often wonder how my life would be different if I put off going to college. I wonder if I would actually have a degree that I use. I wonder what kind of experiences I would have to write about if instead I had traveled through Europe or joined the Peace Corps or just actually allowed myself to be young and have fun.

So, here’s my advice to young people – take your time. Don’t make decisions about the rest of your life because you think that’s what you’re supposed to do. Screw what you’re supposed to do. Live. Enjoy life. Make mistakes. Take a road trip. Fall in love. Be young. Have fun. There’s plenty of time to figure out the rest.


14 responses to this post.

  1. Oops! A very difficult question to answer. I was never able to quite answer to this question. 😦


  2. Great advice for kids Dayle! I completely agree, why should kids be forced to make life decisions when they don’t even know themselves or what they want out of life yet? At 18… 19… 20, I had no clue what I wanted, and honestly I’m just starting to figure that out in my 30’s and like you said… that’s okay! 🙂


    • I’m speculating, but I don’t think *most* people really figure it out until they’re in their late 20s/early 30s. And I really don’t understand the push to make our kids decide their entire lives in just a few short years.

      And dare I say it? College is not for everyone!


  3. Posted by Anne Katherine on January 11, 2012 at 7:25 pm

    I agree with you, but I do think high schools should do a much better job of counseling kids. One thing I hate is that the track in high school where you can go get real job skills (carpentry, electricity, cosmetology, etc.) is looked down upon, as really, most kids are expected to go to college and not worry about those types of skills. Whereas I feel that those things should be more mainstream – I think most kids could benefit from having that kind of exposure and experience. And basics like how to balance a checkbook…what is an interest rate…those things are not really taught. I have one in college and one in high school, so I know whereof I speak. And I just think it’s awfully hard to know what you want to do when all you’ve done is essentially sat in classrooms for 16 years (at the end of college). Experience and exposure in the real world is at least equal to what college can do for you.


    • I 110% believe in teaching real life skills in high school (and I’m kind of working on a post about that, though specifically real life math skills).

      My cousin who grew up wanting to be a carpenter never went to college. He went to a vocational high school and started working right away (actually, he was working while he was in high school – he’s always been one of the hardest working people I know). 10ish years ago, I would have said, “oh, but he still should go to college. Everyone should go to college. Blah blah blah” . . . That belief has definitely changed. He has a good job, takes care of his family, makes enough so that his wife can stay home and take care of their 3 kids . . . he works hard and I’m proud of him for it.

      “And I just think it’s awfully hard to know what you want to do when all you’ve done is essentially sat in classrooms for 16 years”

      THAT is exactly it! Excellent way of putting it!


  4. LOVE THIS!!!!! ❤


  5. Oh, and I forgot to say that I have been writing a blog in my head that has to do with “what I want to be when I grow up.” It’s not exactly the same theme, but if I ever get around to writing and posting it, please don’t think I copied you. 🙂 In fact, you may have inspired me to take it in a whole new direction, so I’ll definitely give you a shout-out!


    • I look forward to reading it and I’m holding you to it!

      I’ve noticed something kind of wacky about blogging . . . It happens pretty often that I write about a topic at relatively the same time as someone else. Maybe it’s just something in the air? And sometimes, I’m sparked by someone’s post and then go off on my own tangent . . . Either way, it’s always fascinating to read someone else’s perspective (even if it is very similar to my own) on a topic I care about 🙂


  6. Dayle – Great advice, and this is me in a nutshell –> “there are those who just have no effing clue what they want to be when they grow up . . . and that’s okay.” Thanks for telling me it’s okay that I *still* don’t know what I want to be when I grow up. I just read about a woman who started publishing novels in her 60s and so I’ll take it as inspiration along these lines. You are right that sometimes as kids we have good instincts about what we want to do and are discouraged along the way. I still regret not pursuing a childhood dream of being a vet, since I was intimidated by the science part of it, when in fact I probably could have gotten through it just fine. I will remember your advice as we encourage our kids to follow their dreams. . . or keep looking for the dream if they haven’t found by the ripe old age of 18 :). -A


    • “I just read about a woman who started publishing novels in her 60s”

      That is awesome!

      There are days when I start to feel like I’m too old, like because I didn’t accomplish something before having a child that means it’s never going to happen. And then I want to slap myself and say, “uh, you’re only 32!” . . . And the same could be said at 42, 52, 62 . . . it’s *never* too late. Why do we feel this insane pressure to accomplish everything in the first quarter of our lives? Seems kind of silly . . . especially when we spend most of that quarter as children!

      I’ve only just narrowed down what I want to do . . . I’m still working out the details . . . and I’m totally open to change!

      Good luck to you on figuring it out . . . in your time, when you’re ready!


  7. I read this awhile back but didn’t comment then because I was on my phone.
    I so agree with your message to younger kids about not worrying about knowing what you want to be while you’re still so young.
    I’ve seen with my nieces when they were close to graduating, they were so stressed out trying to figure out what they wanted to do, and I would always tell them not to worry so much. I thought I had things all figured out myself when I went to college, but I didn’t. I think kids should take a variety of classes they are interested in, take time off from college, or just try out different jobs until they figure out what they want to do. And then not feel pressured when they realize at 25 or 26, they still might not be sure, cause I’m 28 and I’ve been considering taking more classes online for a totally different degree that what I went to college for at 17! And why should I be surprised? Things change…..


    • It’s insane to me how pressured kids are . . . and then society wants to say to them, “Hey, you don’t know anything cause you’re just a kid.” . . . And I got that from people well into my 20’s!

      I was just like your nieces when I graduated. My entire senior year was filled with trips to the counselor’s office to talk about college. Isn’t senior year supposed to be fun?!

      I think it’s awesome that you’re thinking about taking online classes! Did you know that MIT is offering (or will be soon . . . but I think they said Jan. 2012) completely free online courses? I think I’m going to check that out over the summer when things get a bit more relaxed around here 🙂


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