“What do you want to be when you grow up?” Even when I was a little girl, I found that to be a weighty question. I would come up with answers – a veterinarian, a teacher, a spy, or maybe all three at the same time. But I never had a single answer that felt right.
And I still don’t.
However, I’m now a junior in high school and demands and expectations have changed. You’re expected to be realistic. Kids who used to dream of being a ballerina, or firefighter or president of the United States now talk about careers in phlebotomy, administrative justice or tax auditing. My girlhood dream of being a spy still drifts hopefully through my mind, but that’s not the sort of thing that usually gets said out loud, because childhood dreams – astronaut, racecar driver – are met with doubt instead of encouragement.
There’s a lot of emphasis on what classes to take, working hard and getting good grades, choosing a college, all of which is supposed to help you become what it is you want to be when you grow up. But making the right decisions for the future can be difficult when you’re still not sure what form the future will take.
The message that comes through is that you must plan for a life based on a sturdy salary, bills, mortgages, insurance and loans. A steady income means more to our capitalist world than dreams do.
So, what do I want to be when I grow up? Though I don’t have much longer to decide, I’m passionately undecided. I believe I won’t ever truly answer the question. Even once I’ve found a career path, I think there will always be something else I want to do and be, and just because I’m a “grown-up,” won’t mean I’m barred from doing and being those other things. I predict I’ll be pondering the what-do-you-want-to-be question far after I’m the age many consider to be grown.
As for the near-term, I don’t know what career I will pursue, but whether it’s science, or law or writing – or espionage – I do know that my career decision will be only one part of my life that I have accounted for. And at the end of it all, I know I want to be someone who is happy with what I have done, produced and changed.
Lani Tunzi is in the 11th grade at Eagle Rock High School.