What Did You Want To Be?

on Tuesday, June 17, 2008

"What do you want to be when you grow up?" Do you remember being asked that question when you were a kid? Perhaps you even had the misfortune of having to write a homework essay on that very topic. Do you remember what you said then?

I seem to recall, at least in Malaysia, the choice was fairly straightforward. There were only a few career paths that our parents had tried to indoctrinate us towards since an early age. The number one most popular choice of parents was for their children to be a doctor. Being an engineer was a close second, with lawyer third and so forth. Children being children, we had our own set of priorities. Movie Star was our number one choice.

As we grow up, it is said that our priorities change as our world view changes. I seem to recall that my very first venture into the realm of "what I want to be when I grew up" was quite simply to be rich! I wanted to be a millionaire. It did not matter how. The details were not important as long as I was filthy rich.

If I sound shallow here, please remember that I was only a small kid at that time. Of course, as I grew older and more matured, I refined what I wanted to be. Yes, I grew to realise that wealth wasn't everything. That was when I decided that I would be a rich and famous movie star. After all, what is wealth if you weren't famous and had people watching you flaunt your gazillions. Still later, I would further modify this to be a rich and famous movie star but one who was still humble and remembered his old friends from the old neighborhood. Kind of like how J-Lo is still Jenny from the block.........you know(sarcasm). Actually, I was more influenced by the wisdom of one Linus van Pelt (Peanuts by C. Schultz) who once declared that he wanted to be a rich and famous but humble country doctor.

I guess sometime after that, I was brainwashed by teachers who kept insisting we learn little sayings like "money can't buy happiness." I was impressed with the efficiency of their brainwashing techniques. That started me on the thought that what I really wanted to be was a psychologist and play around with people's minds. I remember telling my brother that I wanted to go around in a white coat, give people electric shocks and inject them with medication. That's when he explained that you need to be a psychiatrist to treat patients with electric shock and drugs. When I found out that psychiatrists had to complete medicine first before they take up psychiatry, I lost interest. It seemed like too much hard work and study.

Around the time when most of my friends were slowly changing their targets in life from being cowboys, firemen, astronauts or soldiers to doctors, engineers and bankers, I too decided to drop psychology and psychiatry like a hot potato. I was still interested in tinkering with the mind but decided that being a scientist was a lot quicker way to get to play around with the brain. My new goal was to be a rich and famous, Nobel Prize winning but humble scientist.

My parents were alarmed and recruited my extended family and some friends to kidnap me and do an intervention to remove these deviant thoughts from my young mind. At the end of the treatment, I was reciting the mantra...."I want to be a doctor".

So off I went and in due time studied and applied for medical school. Despite good results, I failed to gain entry in the first round. I was given a second interview at some Universities and one offered to consider me for the next year intake. I mulled it over but I decided to take up an offer to study Biochemistry instead. I was very glad I made that decision. As soon as I did, I realised that medicine was never what I wanted.

Biochemistry, however, still opened the possibility of pursuing my long cherished dream of playing around with brains. Mwahahahaha! Of course in the presence of polite company, I would explain it as an interest to understand the inner workings of the most complex organ, the brain.

Reality intervened and I realised that back home in Malaysia, there was zero research in the field of neurobiology or neurochemistry. It was more practical for me to study oleochemistry due to Malaysia's love affair with oil palm, our golden crop. In the end, I settled on Microbiology as there was still a lot of diseases ravaging the country. By now, I had given up on the idea of being rich. Being famous in microbiology is also not all that great cause about the only way you become famous is to discover a new disease and have it named after you. From then on all who suffer the disease and the medical students who have to study the disease for their exams will curse your name as in "The doctor told me that I have that @#*%#@! disease."

My career path took another twist when I went into environmental conservation. That started as a temporary post but has now taken up most of my working life. That being the case, I guess I really don't know what else the future holds. However, I am hoping it will come full circle and make me rich and famous. Yeah, a rich and famous but humble blogger.


On a limb with Claudia said...

One of the things that's so amazing about you, Squirrely is that you listen to your inner-compass. It's taken me decades to even know that I have an inner compass, let alone listen.

You inspire.

Now, have you been listening to the Pussycat dolls? "When I grow up" is their new single. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qpz0VcDuR4g

patterns of ink said...

That is such a good question. I was at a meeting of school superintendents in our area last Thursday. I was able to share a reminder with them that the purpose of education is not just teaching students how to make a living but also how to live. In this world of change some things do not change. It seems to me that you have benefitted as much from knowing first your purpose for living and then your career.

Equally important...
Do you realize how few people know the last name of Linus and his sister? I, too, am a huge Schultz fan.

heiresschild said...

hi LGS, i think you've done well in the career decision you made, and you always have a career as a journalist. your blog posts are very interesting, so i think you'd do well as a journalist/writer.

i wanted to be a model and an airline stewardess (before they were called flight attendants), but i was too short for both. i could type 120 wpm, and had very good organizational skills, so i decided on a private executive secretarial career/administrative assistant, which i did. now, i want to be a business owner. i have my cosmetologist license and a degree in the culinary arts, and am finishing up my degree in business administration, so hopefully, when i finish helping out my daughter and family (almost 3 yr old granddaughter and the twins who haven't arrived yet), i can resume my plans. good post.

hope you're having an enjoyable summer. i'm loving CA.

MedStudentWife said...

I love the squirrel-o-nut....:)

You could be the first space(as in outter space) conservationist.

That might make you rich, famous and humble *grin*.

Janice Thomson said...

I loved this post Lgs as it brought back all the times I changed my mind too about what I wanted to be - everything from a hairdresser to a nun and everything in between LOL. I must admit rich and famous never entered the equation - maybe that's what I did wrong :)

blackcrag said...

I think my earliest 'what I want to be' was a farmer. Even then, i was thinking with my stomoach. I also considered teacher and lawyer while in my teens.

Afteer that... I went with writing. Well, during that, actually, as the dream of being n author has been with me since I was 7 or so.

I eventually went to university for a couple years of Creative writing, and much later went back to college for a journalism degree.

Last year I managed a cafe and considered going to culinary school. And now, I make salsa, bruschetta and coleslaw for a living.

So, in the end, I don't know what I want to be when I grow up, as I still haven't grown up yet.

Claire said...

I wanted to be a zoologist and study animal behavior. That was my goal from early childhood. One day one of my students asked me why I like animals so much. I told her I was lonely child and I thought the animals were my friends.

WTJ said...

haha.. good post. I always want to be a rich scientist. The "rich" dream obviously can't achieve as a scientist.

the walking man said...

Squirrel I never did want to be anything, never wanted a career or job title. Never thought wealth or fame was in my cards or much of a future either. We talked, I remember talking with people I grew up around how they wanted to die, "A motorcycle a hundred miles an hour off a cliff...surfing (Midwestern US dream of the landlocked)...Owning everything"

Funny thing is I was surrounded by educational degrees...Bachelors of science and art...Masters of this or that and a Doctorate or five...never impacted me.

The one thing I can say about my career choice, thrust upon me by needing to work, is that in fixing cars I never regretted taking the wealth of them who went to school to learn how to fix my brain, I was successful in my endeavors, them not so much so.

Lone Grey Squirrel said...

Wow. Talk about different perspectives! I always felt I kind of drifted with the flow....except that time when I was sure that medicine was not for me and I kind of feel God gave me a nudge then.

Rather embarrassed but I do like the Pussycat dolls but no, I didn't know about their new single "when I grow up". It is pure coincidence. ;)

Lone Grey Squirrel said...

Excellent points about the purpose of education. For me, I was schooled by the quirky pop psychology of the van Pelt siblings. "The doctor is in".

Thanks for the compliments but I think you are much better in tune with what you want than I was. I kind of stumble into things. My current occupation after all started as a temporary post! :)

Lone Grey Squirrel said...

a little joke.

If the Americans call them Astronauts, the Russians call them Cosmonauts and the Chinese call them Taikonauts, what do the malaysians call their men in space?

Answer: Can-or-not?

I would very much like to know what went through your mind that you considered being a nun. Very interesting.

Lone Grey Squirrel said...

I like it that you said you haven't grown up yet. I think that is great. Growing up is like growing old. I think it is best to avoid it as long as possible.

I really respect farmers, by the way. Often think they are doing the most important job of all.....feeding us. Mind you, you are also in the business of feeding people. I sense you are a very creative person. Perhaps expressing your creativity is the most important thing of all.

Lone Grey Squirrel said...

I get a different vibe. I sense you are a very caring person which is why you wanted to do zoology - to learn about animals and to care for them. And I think that your choices have been because of this caring nature. I'm not wrong, am I?

Lone Grey Squirrel said...

Thanks for visiting and leaving a comment. Good luck with your studies and exams. You can be a rich scientist but you have to love doing business more than doing science.

I wish I was good at fixing cars or working with wood. I really like the thought of creating something with my hands. Regretably, when I touch wood, all I create is sawdust. As for your experience, I think you should be proud and delighted that you took their money. peace.

Dr.John said...

Well if you figure out how to become a rich and famous but humble blogger would you let me know. It sounds like fun.

Gina said...

Wow...so many twists and turns! So much freedom and flexibility within the LGS. You writings remind me of a child who has been home schooled. It's like the one thing you always know was that you were a free man, that your identity was not bound up with what you did for a living. Yes. Inspiring. At any age it's perfectly GOOD to consider the possibilities.

MedStudentWife said...


squirrelmama said...

Imagine, LGS, if you had known as a little child that you would grow to be a rich and famous blogger - or just a blogger!! You would be known as a child visionary. Who knew then we would all be dancing on our toes in the blogosphere?

As for me, I toyed with being a veterinarian ('til I realized you have to heal sick animals, not just play with them), a jockey (there were no "girl" jockeys though when I was that young), and then a writer, which was probably always lurking in the back room of my other two ambitions. So now I write (my paying job), I rehab animals (the job where all my $$$ from my paying job goes) and I ride horses (the other place where all my $$$ leftover from rehabbing goes.)

Not such a circuitous or interesting route as yours, though.

Margaret said...

Great insightful post. I'm forty now, and now recently have to mull over what I want to be when I grow up. (or rather in the next few months.)

My daughter, wise at the age of five said, "Pray. Then do whatever you like to do. Have fun."

I'm gonna take her up on that offer.

Urban Animal said...

What a great post and yes, I do remember the question but I'm not sure I remember my answer. But I'm sure it didn't involve anything remotely close to doctor, movie star or lawyer. My "career" choice came by accident. I'm an assistant because I like to help and do work for others. Plus, this is the only job where they pay you to control someone, i.e. their calendar *grin*

I don't think my work defines me per se but the way I am at work is pretty much the same as I am outside of it.

I'm sure that if one day you become rich and famous you will always be humble. I doubt it will ever change :)

fromtheworld said...

I love this post. A) because it is written in a really funny way and B) because as a scientist I have been dreaming of a nobel prize too (as well as making enough money, not even getting reach) and so, I have been there....even if I started of with the childhood dream of growing up to become one of these people who play the saxophone at the metro stations...

fromtheworld said...

I love this post. A) because it is written in a really funny way and B) because as a scientist I have been dreaming of a nobel prize too (as well as making enough money, not even getting reach) and so, I have been there....even if I started of with the childhood dream of growing up to become one of these people who play the saxophone at the metro stations...

Anonymous said...

Yiu are working to save this gorgeous planet - you already are rich. And I thank you.

When my older son was a little boy he said he wanted to be renaissance man. My younger son, at teh same age, planned to be a "recycling cowboy." His plan was to ride a horse, sing and play his guitar and invent machines that recycle things.

Lone Grey Squirrel said...

dr. john,
You are famous! You are known right round the world.....even by my humble self in Malaysia. The "rich" part is harder. How about rich in spirit?

you are right. One of the few things I know is that my work does not define me.

Lone Grey Squirrel said...

Good on you for keeping true to the three childhood dreams.

How did your daughter get to be so wise at her age?

Lone Grey Squirrel said...

urban animal,
I think it is important that the work does not define us. We are definitely worth more than just the job we do.

My, we aren't that different. Both scientists but with a little child inside that wants to run away and make music! Thanks for leaving a comment.

Ruth D~ said...

Made me think . . . do any of us really have the freedom we think we do to make choices? I became a teacher because it was one of the few choices for woman. How lucky that I wanted to teach and was suited to it personality wise. As for being rich, never happened. Famous? Never cared. Humble? Absolutely. I'm the best, absolutely top notch, superb humble person ever! Ever!! ;>)

Lone Grey Squirrel said...

Glad that you enjoy teaching. I am humbled by your immense humility. ;)

日月神教-向左使 said...


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