All I wanted was to be rich and famous.

What is the toughest question you’ve ever been asked?

For me, “Fries – large or medium?” and “Are you out of your mind?” are top contenders. But they aren’t the toughest questions I’ve ever been asked – not by a long shot.

No, the undoubted winner is “What do you want to be when you grow up?”

I like to call this question the ‘How It All Began’ question. I’ll explain.

Imagine this: You’re three years old and your parents have guests over. You’re busy playing with your ‘Barney-the-dinosaur’ soft toy. All of a sudden, there’s a lull in the conversation. Nobody knows what to say, so all eyes slowly turn towards you. You’re too young and innocent to know that you are the next victim. “Aww, what a sweet child,” one lady croons. She looks straight at you and asks, “So, what do you want to be when you grow up?” You’re taken aback. Grow up? That’s the first time you’re hearing about this. What does it mean – to grow up? And you have to be something? But why? You start squirming. You look at your parents hopefully. But they’re no help – they’re just beaming down at you, as is a whole group of adults. Suddenly one of them comes to a rescue. “Isn’t that a dinosaur you’re playing with? So, are we looking at an aspiring palaeontologist, then?” The adults laugh. ‘Laughing is good,’ you think, so you nod along. You’re only three, and you already want to be something that you cannot pronounce. Thus the scene is set for disappointment, self-realization and a life reconciled to procrastination.    

Just saying.

I really don’t understand why adults would ask unsuspecting little children this question. According to me, it’s one of three reasons:
1. They are genuinely interested. This seems unlikely.
2. They have suppressed memories of adults asking them the same question when they were little, so they are trying to heal themselves by re-enacting the trauma.
3. They want to point and laugh at little children’s dreams because their own childhood dreams were hopelessly crushed and they ended up being accountants. “Oh, so you want to become a ballerina, do you? (snorting) Good luck with that!”  

After lengthy observation (not really), I’ve noticed that there are six phases of childhood and each one boasts of a different answer to this question.

Phase 1 (ages 3-5 years): ‘My own little bubble’
You want to become one of the things in the pictures on the walls of your kindergarten class. A doctor. A painter. Dora the explorer.

Me, I went one step further in this phase. I told everyone that I wanted to be the President of the United States of America. That’s slightly strange, because I’m not even American.

Phase 2 (ages 6-7 years):  ‘Disillusioned: The bubble pops’
By now, you’re completely disillusioned with life. Your mother’s just told you that you can’t get a monkey, so you can’t be Dora the Explorer. And she scolded you for using up all the Band-Aids in your preparation to be a doctor. That’s when you think, ‘To heck with it! I don’t want to be an explorer, a doctor, or a painter.’
So you decide to be a bird.
Or an anteater, in my case. 

Phase 3 (ages 8-10 years): ‘I like the sound of that’
You’ve found that ants don’t taste very good. And you had to get six stiches on your knee when you tried to fly.
But now that you’re eight years old, you’ve heard about a whole range of occupations – and some of them sound really cool. Maybe you decide to be a scientist. Or a fire-fighter. Or a professional football player. Or a feminist. Or an ice-cream man. Sorry… an ice-cream person.

Phase 4 (ages 11-12 years): ‘It’s all about the money, money, money’
You know, scientist, fire-fighter and ice-cream man all seem like really hard jobs. You’d much rather just be rich and famous. No stress, no fuss. Just money. And a big house. Like Paris Hilton. Or Iron Man.

Phase 5 (ages 13-14 years): ‘Can I have a degree with that?’
Okay, your parents are saying that you need to get a degree. You’ve checked and there’s no such thing as a ‘rich-and-famous’ degree. You’re going to have to do something. But it has to be something fun, and interesting. Something you really love. A performing arts degree, maybe. Or a creative writing degree.

Phase 6 (age 15 years): ‘All roads lead to a professional degree’
Yup, it’s settled. Accountancy it is.

So that’s it. You started out with Dora and ended up as a character from Dilbert. Something went wrong along the way, and I think that it’s all because of this pesky question. It just sets the bar too high.

So I’ve devised an ingenious solution. I would be grateful if you could pass my message to as many three-years olds as you possibly can:

Three-years olds of the world: You know when adults ask you “What do you want to be when you grow up?”
You should say, “An adult”.
It can only get better from there.

201 comments on “All I wanted was to be rich and famous.

  1. Jennifer says:

    Love it! Hate being asked that question because it changes so much depending on your interests at the time! But I would have made a great crayon maker! :S

  2. i recognized myself in your post! we were all too naive and simple minded, when we were young 🙂

  3. ALEXISTAN says:

    I started out as an astronaut. But I landed in Westchester County as a freelancer.

  4. tinaslingerie says:

    I just wanted to be big,loooool!! this is one of the funniest posts i have read in a long time. I am going to ask this question to my son when he turns 3 on June and see his reaction ha ha ha!!!

  5. xiaoqiao0081 says:

    Reblogged this on xiaoqiao0081 and commented:
    It’s a good summery of most people.

  6. ivyon says:

    I like the last sentence, but I don’t agree with you on the reasons why adults ask kids these questions. It is just as they ask: “When will you get a bf/gf?” “When will you marry?” “When will you have kids?” and so on… It is like filling a gap in the conversation when they don’t know how to approach this kid/teenager/young person. Just like, how’s the weather but more personal. Or they are really noisy and want to gossip about you later. The question is as important as “Does he use the real toilet yet?” Really. It is not their business but there is no expectation, just filling the awkward silence.

  7. mingozz says:

    I always wanted to be an archeologist but with time I realized history was tough for me :p
    So am studying accountancy… 🙂

  8. njannasch says:

    It’s so true that few people ever decide to go after what they really want. Somewhere between that ‘What do you want to be when you grow up?’ question and getting their first jobs after college, most people comfortably settle into ‘reality.’ I think most people don’t even think about what they want after being in the ‘real world’ for a few years. I’d love to hear any feedback you have for my point of view. I wrote a post about it here

  9. It’s funny…as a college student I’m thrust into making decisions that could have huge affects on my life. My dream was to do what I wanted to and that was to join the Religious Studies Department, now that that’s been accomplished everything is just icing on top! To a brand new blogger such as myself this post was great! Keep blogging!

  10. Heartbreakingly true! I started out telling my mother that when I was “rich and famous and working for Jacques Cousteau”, I would do all sorts of things. Somehow, I ended up a secretary. Not even close! I try to never tell a child they can’t be what they want to be. Dream and dream big I say.

  11. ISpontein says:

    Reblogged this on ISpontein and commented:
    Thank you for your kind advice. 😀

  12. Reblogged this on The dreaded life of an average student and commented:
    “I’m not young enough to know everything.”
    ― J.M. Barrie

  13. Crystal :) says:

    Great post! Really thought-provoking and humorous. x)

  14. love it – it does seem that we have the need to define and categorize people based on ‘what they do’ and so we want to hurry this process along with children. A better question might be ‘What do you love?’ ‘What are you interested in?’ Yes, those are the questions I am going to ask from now on 🙂

  15. hcmediate says:

    Great post! So true, especially in this day and age, we are always trying to figure out what our purpose is in life!

  16. hcmediate says:

    Reblogged this on hc Mediate and commented:
    Great post!

  17. brooklogun says:

    It made good reading. Funny but true!! When I was three or four I wanted to become a teacher and I am one today! In between all that were infinite distractions but I’m following my dreams. Good luck!!

  18. mass107group7 says:

    Reblogged this on Assigmentmas107.

  19. Anthony says:

    Your post was truly on the mark.
    My problem is that I am not sure I have grown up. I know I want to write (hence the whole Word Press thing) but more than anything, I wish I could recapture that spirit of childhood where you thought you could be anything, and that whatever that was, could make you happy and rich. Thanks for your post.

  20. akrobson says:

    Great blog post! Funny and true!

  21. Jess Carey says:

    Ohh, brilliant piece! I’m 28 and still have no idea what I want to be when I grow up – apparently “happy” isn’t a big enough aspiration! Glad to know, from all the comments, that I’m not the only one lost and confused!

  22. BHavEEka says:

    Its so matter in which part of the world we are the adults have same question…i re member so many incidents that happened to me as well..i used to say i wanted to be an air-hostess later i realized I am short and not so much pretty .. :)…and now the only thing i want to be is a good creative writer…

    your post is very much interesting…reminded me of good old days..:)
    Best wishes to you and from now on I will suggests if any kids in my family..the same that you have advised…:)

  23. mabsz says:

    Reblogged this on Surrender of the Hopeful and commented:
    Hilarious specially the readers’ comments to this blog..haha

  24. I openly said I didn’t know what I wanted to be when I grew up, but nobody told me how I could go about finding out what options I really did have. 40 years later and I now have the tools to make this discovery, thank goodness. This is a very funny article about a topic which for some of us has plagued our whole life. Thank you for the hilarious insights.

  25. divya012 says:

    omg! dats lyk soo true

  26. Davelyn says:

    This read was absolutely hilarious! That question was one of my worst nightmares all through school & I swear to never torture kids with it! I myself, eventually took to responding “It is a secret, but when I have accomplished what I am planning…you’ll know 😉 .” Thanks for sharing this!

  27. Puffetic says:

    I can’t remember my career aspirations as a 3 year old. I know I had a fear of talking on telephones and being confined in small spaces. I did like playing in the mud outdoors! Much later I received my degree and spent 25 years working in a small cubicle as a call centre operator. I still hate small spaces and telephones, but now I’m much more passionate about it. Now all I want to be is that 3 year old again…. mentally I get closer to that age each day. So what I’m saying is, it’s important to shatter your child’s dreams early, that way they can focus on more important pursuits like the misappropriation of funds, revenge and extortion.

    • mushroomsup says:

      Hahahaha…this is hilarious 🙂
      It’s true – the pursuits you’ve mentioned are wayy more important!
      A child with a fear of telephones and small spaces eventually becomes a call centre operator. Ironic is an understatement 😀

  28. Monica DiNatale says:

    Funny. It’s never to late to figure out what to be when you grow up! Let’s teach children that positive thought.

  29. gmatt63 says:

    I’ve been “growing up” my entire life. It’s highly overrated. I still don’t know what I want to do with my life and I’m within spitting distance of retirement.

  30. moa4u says:

    I love this blog. Please check out my journey- motherofaartist!

  31. El Guapo says:

    Wait – why exactly am I agreeing to grow up in the first place?

  32. thewisetent says:

    I’m going into my third year of university and I’m 21…. wish you would have continued after age 15 ‘cuz I still don’t really know what I want to do when I grow up. Great post by the way!

  33. […] things have happened. I got nominated to be a BlogHer Voice of The Year (VoTY) for the post ‘All I Wanted was to be Rich and Famous’. I got Freshly Pressed a second time, for the same post. And it was my birthday. (I got A LOT OF […]

  34. procrastination108 says:

    That was a fun read. And so true! All I’ve ever wanted to do since I could comprehend the world ( Well, sort of) was to be anything but a doctor. Here I am, 23 years old and guess what? A doctor. I’m still coming to terms with it. But mostly I see my past laughing at my present. A cruel jape.

  35. DeeWes says:

    Delightful read, and so true! I looked at my Grand kids the other day 3 and 4 and asked the 4 yr old the question. Why? I have no idea because I know that anything we answer as children never prove to be what happens in adult life, at least for 99% of us. But basically I got the answer “what?” and then ignored. She could not comprehend that even at 4. When a child is less than 5 that should be an avoided question. When they turn 5 what about the question as an aspiration? Maybe. Nevertheless I enjoyed reading this .. Thanks!

  36. bousquettom says:

    I’ve heard before that adults ask kids what they want to be when they grow up because they themselves are looking for ideas. Kind of like you’re third reason that you stated early on, more often than not people don’t grow up to take on the profession they once thought they would. Sometimes dreams changed, are crushed, and every so often some are attained. For better or worse there are so many paths to take. I appreciate what you shared here.

  37. natpy15 says:

    Love your post!! Really true!

  38. stepstofootprints says:

    absolutely true !!!!!!!

  39. When I was a kid, I wanted to grow up to be wonder woman.. I’m now 38 years of age and still mourning my bubble.. I have managed to become ‘Wander Woman’ though.. 😉

  40. agnestadia says:

    one should realize what he/she wants to be,,,, because our work or career is the extension of ourselves….we project our sense of talent and skill into it……

  41. I love this post! As a (younger) kid I went between wanting to be Bob the Builder, to a teacher, to some sort of writer.

  42. Reblogged this on Goin' the..extra..aamile and commented:

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