What do YOU want to be when you grow up?

by Aug 11, 20214 comments

It’s a question we were all asked often as children.

Some kids always knew what they wanted and others would change their choices change day-by-day according to what they saw on movies or read in books or what their parents did.  Doctor, astronaut, fire fighter,  superhero, teacher, baker, professional athlete, movie star ….. possibilities are endless.  No wonder it was a stressful question for some of us.  There are many pages and videos offering straightforward or unusual responses.   Like this one about 15 funny answers (#4 and its follow-up are my favourite).

We don’t get asked what we want to be much after we leave middle school or high school.  But it might be a question that is worth revisiting.  After all, we never stop growing but, sadly, we sometimes stopped believing in dreams and possibilities.  Sometimes going back to childhood questions can help us reclaim old passions, and renew dreams for stories we still want to tell.

Childhood Dreams become our Adult Stories

Did you always have the same answer to this question or were you someone who changed your response every time?  Did you see a clear path or imagine different possibilities?  Do you still have the same inclination to questions about your future?  

What did you want to be when you grew up?

What do you most remember wanting to be when you grew up?  Why did you have that vision?

Did you become it?  Why or Why not?

What do you still want to be when you grow up?

I knew very young that I wanted to be a teacher.  I loved learning and was always most comfortable in academic environments. When I was a child, I  imagined being a teacher as standing in front of happy, well-behaved group of children who all loved me.  

As I progressed through my studies, and my first two years of teaching in junior high, I realized that was not the career for me.  That might be a story for another day.  Although traditional public classroom teaching was not for me. I did continue to love parts of the career choice – like developing materials, engaging students and, especially, helping students to choose what they wanted to learn.  So I made a move to adult education and still lived my childhood dream of teaching.  Although, my mother seemed to feel that I had not as she always told me “You should have been a teacher.  You would have been good at it.”  I gave up telling her that I was a teacher.  She clearly had the same idea of teacher as I had a child – me in front of a class of children.

Who or what influenced what you wanted to be or turned you from your path?

Did you have positive or negative experiences or people who influenced your childhood plans?  

If you did not become what you thought you wanted to be, did someone or some event change your mind?

Did anyone try to discourage you from our chosen path?  How did you respond?

My early inspirations were my first teachers (my first teachers were gentle nuns in full habits so that might have been part of my earliest plans for teaching.  That part didn’t take at all.  In any case, the nuns in higher grades were much stricter and, honestly, could be quite terrifying).  My Dad was another influence.  He was an engineer, not a classroom teacher, but he was always teaching us how to do and make things.  It appealed to me to have knowledge that you could pass on to others who, I assumed, would always be eager to learn it.

And that leads me to a not-so-positive experience that took me to a modified path.  My time with grade 6-9 students taught me that a big focus of teaching at that level is discipline, which I learned is not my strong point and was actually quite stressful.  When students were engaged in projects or experienced an insight of understanding, there was nothing like it – but that seemed to be a small part of the day.  Still.  It was enough for me to still want to teach. But not in that setting FOR SURE.

What prepared you for your career?

Did you ever feel you lacked the skills or personality to be what you wanted to be?  How did you change your direction?

What skills come naturally to you?

I learned pretty quickly that I lacked the skills and inclination for teaching in a junior high or high school environment.  And I also realized that I was more interested in helping build on skills rather than constantly starting over with foundational skills, as was the case as a junior high band teacher.

Only the other hand, I am very patient and good at explaining things in different ways, and encouraging people to try new approaches and helping them to develop confidence to explore options.  These are all things that worked in my favour to help me succeed in adult education.  My love of learning new things has also served me well because it has led me to pursue learning that I though would be suitable as content for teaching in College, University or business settings.


What are your passions?

What were you passionate about as a kid?  Have your passions changed as an adult? 

Do you use your passions in your work, career or business?

Are there childhood passions that you would like to reignite?  Passions that you would still like to incorporate into your work life?

 When I was a child, I loved to make things and would spend many hours finding things around the house and the yard then building and gluing and redoing small creations.  I was also a big reader and was quite content to be on my own, keeping myself entertained with my projects and my books.  I was always interested in travel and planning journeys.  All of those things are still important to me – I still make things and have a small business selling artisan crafts.  I am especially passionate about using scraps and offcuts and reclaimed materials, and restoring things or giving them a new life, all things that I now realize were in me very young. I have managed to use my teaching to travel by spending many years teaching English and communications skills in different countries, moving every year or so for many years.

How will you change your story?

What do you still want to be when you grow up?

Are there parts of your childhood story that you want to bring back to your adult stories?

For many years, I dreamt of pursuing a PhD and becoming a a professor at University and one of my regrets is not pursuing that direction.  Not that I have regrets about what I have had a chance to do but there is still that piece that feels unfinished, especially because I mostly made the choice because of financial considerations and have wished that I have been braver about taking the studies and finding the funds.   Now, I still am drawn to the challenges of post-graduate studies, but my interests and changed and I no longer have the interest in formal degree studies.  However, I still love the thought of focusing on a specific area and learning it in depth, devoting my attention to skill development in a concentrated manner.  I have my eyes on a 6-month certificate program in fibre arts that I want to pursue within the next 2 years.  That seems a perfect way to bring back some of the excitement of directed learning and my passion for  developing expertise.

How will you ignite YOUR passions?

Even if you are lucky enough to be following your dream career, you might have new or changed dreams that you still want to pursue as a full time passion or a enjoyable side line.

Maybe you no longer want to be fairy princess but you still want to believe in magic.

Perhaps you have given up plans to be a superhero, but know you can still do heroic things for others in your community.

Being a rock star or a famous actor might no longer be part of your career plans, but you could still play in a hobby band or join a local amateur theatre group

Plans to become a doctor or nurse might have changed but you could be a first aide volunteer at community events or teach health and safety classes at work.

What will you do to bring back your magic or start new dreams? 

It is never to early – or too late — to decide what you want to be when you grow up.


Girl reader photo by Amina Filkins from Pexels

Boy explorer Image by ImaArtist from Pixabay
Mary Elizabeth O'Toole

Mary Elizabeth O'Toole

Educator, Artist, Storyteller


  1. Laura Orsini

    I love this topic and question. I am shifting away from what I always thought I would do to what (working in publishing) to what I love to do (blending my desire to create art, write, teach). I remember, though, going to the library and borrowing books about fonts and coming home and writing my name endless times in all variety of typefaces. My family thought I was nuts – and yet, here I am today playing with fonts. It’s broader now, but I’m tickled to think I had an inkling even back then of what I really wanted to do.

    Thanks for a thoughtful, encouraging post, ME!

    • Mary Elizabeth

      With your book projects and illustrations, it looks like you must still have a connection to publishing. Fonts can be a very focused area of interest but you have really found a beautiful way to combine that in your illustrations. I’m currently on the same journey to create more art, expand my writing and continue to teach. I am glad that you have been able to follow your passion, even if in a slightly different way that you expected.

  2. Glenda Cates

    I know its sad to say but I honestly don’t remember what I wanted to be as a child. But I know my dad owned his own business and I knew one day I was going to as well because I didn’t want to work for someone else. In Homeschool this week I have my son answering this question and I can’t wait to see what he says because when he was smaller it was a Wrestler but now I bet he will say a Basketball Star like Kobe.

    • Mary Elizabeth

      Maybe you don’t remember because you were too focused on the many possibilites to stick to one answer. Being a business owner is a diverse and inspiring dream for sure. You’re lucky to have a model for that in your dad. How did you son answer the question this time? Was it as you predicted?

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