Chocolate consultant? Professional bridesmaid? Dog surfing instructor? Fortune cookie writer? These are currently among the top twenty “most amazing jobs in the world.” But what do kids really want to be when they grow up?
I was listening recently to an interview with Anthony Ramos, the star of the movie In the Heights. He said that when he was a kid the thing that he loved to do, and that kept him out of trouble in a somewhat troubled neighborhood, was play baseball. It was only when he finally realized that he couldn’t hit a curveball that he turned to acting and singing as a fallback career.
His story reminded me of how much I wanted to be a baseball player when I was growing up. I used to throw a rubber ball against my front porch steps for hours a day, making up games and game situations in my mind, and narrating them in my best imitation of a radio announcer’s voice. “The Indians are down three in the bottom of the ninth, with two out and the bases loaded. And the crowd is on its feet as the clean-up hitter Rocky Colovito strolls up to the plate.” The great thing about the front steps was, depending on how a thrown ball rebounded it might pop up into the air, or come back on the ground. Sometimes it would act just like the “batter” fouled it off. I can’t tell you how many times I was the hero of the seventh game of the World Series, but suffice it to say that no Hall of Famer has ever had nearly as great a career as I did by the time I was ten.
It was nice to hear that Ramos also wanted to be a baseball player, I doubt many people under 30 still grow up with that as their first career choice. They might be just as likely to say they want to be professional video gamers, or since they spend so much time role playing fantasy games might imagine careers as alchemists, archers, or Shamans. But why discourage a kid whose only desire is to practice with his crossbow for hours a day? Maybe he’ll never make it as a knight of the round table but given our uncertain future there might soon be openings for town huntsmen to cull the exploding population of genetically modified wombats, or giant rats that escaped the giant rat lab.
I’ve met lots of kids over the years who grew up wanting to become cartoonists. Actually, that’s not accurate, they already were cartoonists. Cartooning isn’t really a profession, it’s an obsession. But when I first saw their little stick figure drawings, or caricatures of their family and friends I never imagined how many would someday be able to support themselves as graphic novelists, cupcake decorators, tattoo artists, or as hair stylists for animated movie characters.
Then there’s my friend Stan, who loved math as a kid. Not many kids fantasize about becoming a math teacher, but he did. Instead he has a career as an animator, where he uses geometric equations to create the illusion of movement and linear algebra to create rotations and change the sizes of the various cartoon images.
Funny Times contributor Bob Harris got a Bachelor of Science in Electrical Engineering and Applied Physics which he put to good use as a staff writer for CSI, tasked with coming up with unusual, but scientifically plausible, ways to be murdered. So there is a career in Hollywood for mad scientists. Among his many other successful career gigs: becoming a stand-up comic, a Jeopardy Grand Champion, and narrating an audiobook on Kosovo by Noam Chomsky. The bottom line here is that nowadays no matter your career background you never know exactly where your next paycheck might be coming from.
It’s amazing how fast things change as old jobs disappear and new ones are created. When my dad was younger he worked for a while as a bowling alley pinsetter. When I told my grandchildren that they asked, “What’s a bowling alley?” My aunt worked for years as a switchboard operator, as did one in every thirteen working women in the U.S. in 1950. Who knows what ubiquitous jobs today might become obsolete by the time the next generation is ready to try to make some money. Will there still be cashiers, accountants, truck-drivers?
I encourage my grandchildren to follow their passions. Right now for the 2-, 4-, and 6-year-old boys that is turning over every rock and log they find and trying to grab the creatures hiding underneath to examine them much more closely. While most people I know jump back a step when they see some creepy crawly thing in the grass, these kids pounce on it. Will they someday become naturalists, biologists, or work at an as yet unknown specialty, like harvesting wild slime mold for cancer treatments? Ask them now and they’ll just say they want to catch some bugs.