A question often asked of children and young adults is, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” If you knew then what you know now, what career advice would you give your younger self?
To be honest, I didn’t know what I really wanted to be as a child or a teen … not many of us do. Some adults are still trying to work it out!
I was asked this question on a fairly regular basis by well-meaning aunts and uncles, teachers and random people my parents knew. Of course, they were referring to a profession or job, not the type of person I wanted to be, which in my book, is probably more important! The questions were often followed with a barrage of unsolicited career advice.
I thought I wanted be a ballerina from ages 6-9. Then followed fashion designer in my early teens, and then I wanted to be a journalist. The ballerina ambition came to a crashing halt when my teacher told me I’d have to learn French and know all the French terms for the positions in order to progress to the next level. That didn’t sound like a lot of fun to a tutu-loving 9-year-old! So I quit ballet and moved on to the Girl Guides. I wished I’d stuck with ballet when we sat down to spend the entire evening learning to tie various knots! 🙂
The fashion designer idea was fleeting and I was discouraged from journalism when a fellow student was chosen to do work experience at the local paper instead of me – I thought it was a sign! If only I hadn’t been so easily discouraged in those days. It was something I quickly grew out of. Thankfully, I’ve built a great deal of resilience over the years. Now, if I know I want to do something or be something, I’m much more determined to see it through.
When my mother was younger, her life choices were a little more clear cut. Back then, girls were nearly always raised to become wives and mothers. They were not encouraged to work outside the home. She enjoyed a few years working as a secretary before marrying Dad and leaving the workforce for many years. She returned to work as Dad’s part-time bookkeeper once we were at school.
By the time I was a teenager, in the early 80’s, Australian life had changed quite a bit. Women now had more options available to them. Mum really encouraged me to get out and do something with my life, but by the time I finished my high school education (HSC), I still didn’t know what it was going to be. While she wanted me to “be whatever I wanted”, making that decision was quite difficult. We didn’t have any career advice at school in those days!
One of my few regrets
I applied to do an Arts course, majoring in Photography. The only problem was, ithe course was only offered at a college located over 1000 kilometres from my hometown. At the tender age of 17, I didn’t think I wanted to be that far away from everyone I know. I deferred the offer, but never took it up. It’s one of my few regrets!
Deciding what career to pursue is a massive life-changing decision. Other than actively encouraging me to do SOMETHING with my life, my parents never tried to persuade me to take on any particular type of job or career. Some of my friends followed in their parent’s footsteps, but mine just wanted me to do whatever made me happy.
Now it’s our daughter’s turn
Our daughter is now 16 and is currently completed Year 11. Within the next year, she will need to decide whether she wants to puruse tertiary education and if so, which course she wants to do. We’ve told her that she doesn’t have to go to Uni, she can go out and get a job. She doesn’t have to make a career decision immediately, but we’ve told her that sitting on the couch at home is definitely NOT an option!
While we would be happy to support her ongoing studies as much as possible, going to University is a very expensive undertaking and is certainly not a guarantee of success in life. In fact, many successful people don’t even finish school, let alone complete any tertiary education!
Trying to decide what you’ll do as a career is extremely difficult when you’re in your teenage years. There are a lot more important things you should be doing, like experiencing life and figuring out who you are as a person, before you might know what you truly want to do as a job or career. At least they have careers advice from specialist advisors at school now, but it amuses me that the advice often comes from people who have never worked outside the education system!
Follow your heart?
I want to tell her to follow her heart and do what makes her happy. She really has no idea what that is just yet though. I’ve suggested that she think about what she’s curious about (thanks Elizabeth Gilbert)… what things she might want to learn more about. I don’t want to pressure her, but there comes a time when we all have to stand up and make a choice, whether we are making the right choice or not.
…and sometimes we don’t have a choice. We all have bills to pay and we just have to take any job which is available to us in order to pay the rent and make ends meet. That’s the reality of life!
It took me many years of working in jobs I really disliked to get to a point where I found something I’m good at, which other people are happy to pay me to do – writing. I love writing for a living. Sure, it has its ups and downs like any job. Being a freelancer isn’t for everyone, but I do love it. I don’t make as much money as I would in a corporate job, but I wasn’t happy in the corporate world, and being happy is more important to me than having loads of money. Don’t worry – I certainly make enough to pay the bills and save for my next holiday!
So, what did you want to be when you were a child?
Did you follow your heart and pursue your childhood passion – or did you meander off in another direction?
What career advice would you give to today’s school leavers? Please leave your comments below 🙂
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