When I Grow Up

firemanWhen I was about five or so, one of the supreme highlights of my week was garbage collection day. With utter fascination, I’d watch that big truck rumble ’round the corner. Enthralled, I gazed in awe at the men jumping off a moving vehicle for Pete’s sake, grabbing garbage cans and throwing their contents into the masher. The masher! Oh, sweet cornflakes! That thing could crush anything. What I wouldn’t have given to borrow that for an afternoon.

This job made quite an impression on me. When asked by various grown-ups what I wanted to be when I ultimately joined their ranks, I proudly stated, “I want to be a garbage!” Not a garbage man, mind you. Just a garbage.

What I find most intriguing about the whole “when I grow up” deal is the difference in perception between those who’ve already growed up and those not yet there. When you’re young, you just assume there’s this point where you leave childhood behind and then presto! you’re an adult. However, after you cross the line into adulthood (which I define as, “can rent a car using one’s own credit card”) you realize there is no magical point. None. Worse, you realize there’s no such thing as adulthood at all. The only thing that changes is your requirement to pay taxes. Inside, you don’t actually feel any different from a year ago. Or a year before that. Or ten years before that. In fact, from your mind’s eye, you haven’t changed one bit since kindergarten.

I’ve identified three basic types of grown-ups:

  1. Those who are actually doing what they actually want to actually do and actually enjoy it. This is probably Warren Buffet and Danny Elfman.
  2. Those who know what they want to do but can’t seem to get a real shot at it. This is probably the majority of us, though I have absolutely no data to back that up. We’re the people who would love to make millions of dollars a year designing paper airplanes, but there’s no serious market for it.
  3. Those who have no idea what they want to do, period. This is probably the other majority of us. We kinda think we’d sorta like to maybe do something different, but we don’t know.

Me, I’m firmly in that second group, though admittedly the “what I want to do” has changed over the years. I think this state is summed up best by this Cyanide and Happiness strip:


Check that out. The kid sees someone flipping burgers. Makes it his dream. But his dream fades as he grows and eventually it’s all but lost. What’s so poignant about this is he’s a dang astronaut and yet all he ever really wanted was to flip burgers. And that sums it up, doesn’t it? No matter how awesome your job is, you really want to be doing something else, even if your job is the envy of many. Millions of people look up to Bill Gates as the success story to end all success stories, yet he probably sits at home and thinks, “I’d sure wish I could make paper airplanes for a living.”

So what do you want to be when you grow up? I don’t care if you’re eight or eighty, leave your answer in the comments below. I’ll start it off: Let’s see… I considered architecture for a while. Then music. Then some sort of art/design field. Then probably music again. (I bet I would have been a pretty good jazz pianist by now if I’d just stuck with it back in 1988.) I actually am a software developer, but I won’t bore you with that. By now, though, some of you may have noticed I enjoy stringing words together in certain patterns to elicit various emotional responses from those reading the words. It was 1993 when I realized I like to write and I’ve been working on that, in one form or another, for fifteen years now. So there. I said it. I want to be a writer.

I’m thinking my next book will be about garbage men.

31 Responses to “When I Grow Up”

E said
November 5, 2008 at 12:28 am

I want to run an antique shop in Pasadena.
Maybe someday! How can I not be optimistic after watching that speech tonight…

Kyddryn said
November 5, 2008 at 2:10 am

Hmm…published, paid to write what I wish, and able to pull my weight (which would hopefully be less than it is now) in the family dynamic.

Or lottery winner.

Not picky.

Shade and Sweetwater,

Megan said
November 5, 2008 at 6:29 am

Charlie you are an amazing writer! I think you already are a writer, you just may not get paid for it!

I absolutely love my job as a speech therapist. I work with children with autism and I have a strong passion for it!! Even when I am tired, my love for my job and the kids fulfill me….but, if I could have many extra hours in a week, I have many other dreams about what I want to be when I grow up…I wouldn’t mind owning a coffee shop…and we aren’t talking the Starbucks type. I want a ture coffee house!

debcurlydog said
November 5, 2008 at 6:44 am

I didn’t know what I wanted to do when I was in High School, I could draw and thought I wanted a certain job and went to college for that. Now I wish I would have majored in Theater. Oh to be on the stage, but I’m to shy and can’t sing well.
Oh well, my daughter has the same interests and in now in dance and loves it. I can watch her and be fulfilled.

Katrina said
November 5, 2008 at 8:09 am

Fun blog. Thanks for stopping by mine! Can’t wait to keep coming back and reading more here.

johngl said
November 5, 2008 at 8:10 am

When I was really young, my cousin and I played “gas station man.” Now, there is no such thing as a gas station man. That, at least was a good thing not to do.

Then, I found I really liked building stuff. We built tree houses, wood forts, snow forts, a shack in the neighbors woods (that local teenagers enjoyed greatly).

I became a builder. I built geodesic domes, structural stress-skin houses, regular frame buildings. I loved it. The building. I didn’t much care for clients.

So, then, I too became a software developer. It payed well and I didn’t have to fight the weather.

Now I want to run an eatery of some sort. Or think I do. Or maybe write a blog and be able to charge $1.2 million for a 125×125 pixel advert.

And my friend Charlie, who IS a writer. I have read his books. He is good at it. He can even make a technical book interesting. A rare talent. And a great friend.

I think he has this other book on the shelves…

Rachael said
November 5, 2008 at 8:49 am

I think I want to be a college professor. I’m probably about 5 1/2 years away from that dream. One day…

Matt said
November 5, 2008 at 9:37 am

What do I want to be when I grow up. Well like you it changes from time to time but I know I have 3 recurring things that have always made me happy. Building stuff, like cool poker tables, cabinets and the like. Cooking, which could translate into a bar and grill. And the third. Photography. Fine art photography to be precise. Other than the class I took in high school I have no technical training but I know I just seem to see things a in a little bit different way than most people do. I think I am going to have to post about it on my blog today.

Thanks for the inspiration.

Biz said
November 5, 2008 at 11:00 am

I’d love to to have a http://www.zoup.com franchise. They are only in Michigan and Ohio though. I ran across it some time ago, and have the franchise information saved as a favorite, if and when I hit the lottery!

I love soup!

Either that or a woodburning stove pizza place!

I love pizza!

Maybe I’ll combine the two!!

Liz said
November 5, 2008 at 11:46 am

Sadly I fall into Group #3. . . . Or maybe it’s that I want to do so many things that I end up doing none of them. A few of the jobs I’ve daydreamed about in my life: writer, librarian, nutritionist, nurse . . . the list goes on and on. I would like to narrow it down!

Stems said
November 5, 2008 at 12:15 pm

Things I wanted to be when I was in high school:

– Marine
– District Attorney
– Algebra Teacher
– Trophy Wife

Things I want to be now:

– Private social club owner (a la old timey gentleman’s smoking club, but not just for men)
– Pastry chef w/ my own pastry & chocolate shop (I know, chocolates are technically a pastry – but the ‘general public’ doesn’t know that)
– Trophy Wife w/ Fancy Hats

Stephanie said
November 5, 2008 at 2:45 pm

I squarely fit into number three. I don’t have a clue as to what I want to do, except… win the lottery, be the banker for Charlie’s next book, then stimulate this sorry ecomony with the rest of my winnings.

honi said
November 5, 2008 at 3:43 pm

I wanted to be a singer,
I wanted to be an entertainer,
I wanted to be a teacher
I wanted to have my own cookie business.. * i did do that for a while but injured my back and had to quit..
I wanted to work with children.* did that too had to quit due to the back..
Now I am an office manager for an eye doctor.. its okay.. but ya know.. I wish I could write . I have written since I was 10.. and I have been asked over and over again by people I know and people I dont know well to write… I guess thats why I have my blog… it sort of feeds the writing bug…

fuzzleinc said
November 5, 2008 at 4:56 pm

I wanted to be a fireman. Or firewoman, actually. Then I got fat and ended up in an office. Sigh.

Jen said
November 5, 2008 at 6:22 pm

Wanted to be so many things. Had 5 majors in college. Did none of them. Am now a stay-at-home mom with dreams of someday following my dreams. Maybe a fashion designer? Professional Blogger? Book Editor? I think I have always been a #3. Hopefully one day I can narrow it down and be a #2.

Stems said
November 5, 2008 at 6:42 pm

Oh, I also want to be a Pirate-Ninja-Spy-Assassin.

Charlie said
November 5, 2008 at 6:54 pm

Well, who doesn’t, Stems? Kinda goes without saying.

And, for the record, I will go back and amend mine as, “I want to be a writer and make an actual living at it.” 🙂

That way, I can use my non-work hours to do the other things I want to do but not make money at (primarily music and art, but it too is a long list).

Oh well. Vita brevis ars longa…

Christie said
November 6, 2008 at 1:59 am

I fall into category #3. I used to want a job where I didn’t have to wear a hat. I worked so long in food service that I thought people who didn’t have to pin their hair up and smell like fast food every night had it made.

I now know differently.

Christy said
November 6, 2008 at 3:48 am

As a child I wanted to be a barbie doll…I did not realize they were not real people at the age of 3…pfht!

Now I would love to be a party/event planner. My office job is plain, boring and redundant. But planning parties is so different. Everyone wants something different. I could do it. I could handle it…the stress would suck…but I like having that edge.

Deborah said
November 6, 2008 at 3:22 pm

When I grow up (this time) I want to be a meteorologist. But this is one item on my bucket list that I won’t accomplish. I can’t afford the college for it any more.

In 1960 when I was in the 8th grade I wanted to be a veteienarian…then when I was in high school I wanted to be a lawyer…and I ended up being a teacher (for 25 years) with being a Mom in between high school and college.

Jennifer said
November 6, 2008 at 11:01 pm

I would love to own/work in a bead store. I would love putting my hands on all those beads, sorting them and teaching classes on how to make jewelry to people. Plus I would own by own cooking store with every fun gadget you could find, and I would teach cooking classes too. And, I would also be a ballerina!

Bonnie said
November 10, 2008 at 10:39 am

I just always wanted to be a “successful” wife and Mom….well, I did the Mom part good. Trouble is…now I’m 53 and I don’t want to be a successful wife any more. And now I’m doing the Mom part AND the Grandma part….and it’s all good. But I still don’t know what I want to be when I grow up, besides the Administrative Asst. that I am.

Becca said
November 10, 2008 at 11:28 am

When I was a kid, I loved to sing. All I wanted to do was sing. As I grew up, I kept singing. I went to college, and sang. After I graduated, I got a paying job, but kept singing, never thinking I could make money from singing. After several years of working a “real” job, I decided to audition for some singing jobs. I got one, a big one, in arguably the busiest opera house in the world. Now I sing all day and all night, just like I wanted to when I was a kid. My new dream for when I grow up? I want to work in a bakery in the South of France. oh, and sing.

Charlie said
November 10, 2008 at 7:17 pm

Great comments, everyone. Thanks for the good reading after my writing.

Michelle said
November 12, 2008 at 8:56 pm

When I was five, my kindergarten teacher made me draw a picture of what I wanted to be when I grew up. I drew a lady holding a cat and labeled it “animal doctor”. I kept the same dream of wanting to be a vet for years and years.. I’m a sophomore in college now…animal health science, which basically translates into being an “animal nurse”. So I didn’t quite get to my dream career. Settled for less school.

Great post!

PCortez said
December 2, 2008 at 8:26 am

As a child I wanted to be an actor. But my dream was canceled when my mom told me that acting is for lazy people. I acted a few times in high school- and after some plays at work. Now, I am an ESL instructor. Acting just became what I want to be as I get older. Thanks Charlie.

Back to the Fridge » Alternate Reality #1 said
December 17, 2008 at 12:04 am

[…] early November, I mused a bit about what I’d like to be when I grow up. We dream about things as kids and precious few of us ever get the chance to play out our dreams in […]

cali said
December 28, 2008 at 11:04 am

I’ve been very fortunate to try a lot of things I’ve wanted to do:

I’ve been a college professor.
I owned a bookstore.
I worked on political campaigns.
I promoted the live music at a local coffeehouse.
I’ve created two programs that have received national recognition: one in support of children’s literacy and one in domestic violence prevention.

Three things I’ve wanted to do that I haven’t yet experienced are:

– to work at a National Park
– to be a humanitarian
– to be a fitness/wellness guru

Shea said
January 8, 2009 at 7:08 am

Hi Charlie… No, I didn’t see this post before. This is great. Thank you!

What I always wanted to be was a writer. From age 12. And even though I have a journalism degree and have made my LIVING as a writer for 16 years, I still don’t always think of myself as a writer.

My idea of being a writer is like your description of being a grown up… some mythical, far-off place, where they don’t have things like writer’s block, and unending revisions, or people saying things like, “But I don’t get it.”

However, what I REALLY always wanted to be is a catalyst. A catalyst that helps people get from here… to there. And feel happy while being totally terrified by the process. That sounds awesome.

Thank you so much for YOUR writing. You are definitely a writer. And an entertainer. And, an illuminator. And, a co-conspirator. And, all the other things that go along with the magic of stringing words together, one after the other, after the other.

Holy cornflakes!

🙂 shea

Back to the Fridge » Alternate Reality #2 said
January 28, 2009 at 12:03 am

[…] early November, I mused a bit about what I’d like to be when I grow up. We dream about things as kids and precious few of us ever get the chance to play out our dreams in […]

Back to the Fridge » Alternate Reality #3 said
April 29, 2009 at 12:02 am

[…] November 2008, I mused a bit about what I’d like to be when I grow up. We dream about things as kids and precious few of us ever get the chance to play out our dreams in […]