AI: What do you want to be when you grow up?

A few days ago I had a “things I want to do/be when I grow up” with an eleven year old I know.  She’s old enough that she no longer thinks it’s plausible to be a firewoman and a princess and an elevator operator all at once.  In fact, all three of these once-cherished options have fallen out of favor.  I asked again: So what does she want to be when she grows up?

Her answer surprised me.  First she asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up back when I was a kid [a painter], and then she said she’d like to be funny.

Funny is a good goal for anyone, I think.  Or anyone who has to get along in society. It surely is better than “a drain on my communities resources” or “a pet psychic” or “designated puppy kicker.”  But I don’t know what classes one takes to prepare, or how many people outside of Louis C.K. and Chris Rock can make a living being funny.  I mean, more than just those two, sure … but not everyone.

So I said “Yes, but what will you do? Where will you work?”  And she said “Hopefully close to my sisters because I love them.”

I admit, I didn’t expect a state of being for her answer.  In fact, I was hoping for teacher or chemist or gardener, because she seems to like these things.  But her goal is a good one nonetheless.

Since she stymied my efforts, I ask you all:

What do you want to be when you grow up?  What’s on your bucket list for the future?  Where do you see yourself in five years?


The Afternoon Inquisition (or AI) is a question posed to you, the Skepchick community. Look for it to appear Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays at 3pm ET.


A B Kovacs is the Director of Døøm at Empty Set Entertainment, a publishing company she co-founded with critical thinker and fiction author Scott Sigler. She considers herself a “Creative Adjacent” — helping creative people be more productive and prolific by managing the logistics of Making for the masses. She's a science nerd, a rabid movie geek, and an unrepentantly voracious reader. She doesn't like chocolate all that much.

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  1. I don’t want to grow up, not all the way. Sure, there are benefits to accepting responsibility for our actions, but growing up all the way is too staid. I want to be able to always be irreverent toward all those things which are desperately in need of irreverence.

  2. I want to be a neuroengineer and work on interfacing brains and computers! Honestly, this is where I see our best hope as skeptics coming from. There will always be new brains that need to be taught to think skeptically – until we can build brains to think skeptically.

    1. Neuroengineer sounds fascinating and awesome. And kind of sci-fi. I think that might meet needs of the adult AND the kid in you, no?

  3. I remember wanting to be a Meteorologist when I was a kid, even though I was incredibly terrified of thunderstorms to the point that I would lock myself in the bathroom, and work myself up to the point of getting sick. So I took my Generalized Anxiety Disorder and set out to study psychology in college, which I didn’t completely follow through on. (Stopped at an associates in Social Science.)

    Now I have an office job in a credit union and am actually quite content working for a non-for-profit financial cooperative. I hope to stay here for as long as they will have me.

    On a side note, when my niece was 3 my friend asked her what she wanted to be when she grew up. Her reply was, “A banana.”

  4. Funny sounds like a good answer to me, people skills are very important for getting ahead.

    As for the actual question, I wanted to be a scientist. I currently possess a bachelors degree in biology and I can say, I just want a real job with steady hours and a decent paycheck.

    1. Yep, that’s the part I’d never tell my young friend until she finds it out for herself: sometimes, the best thing you can be when you grow up is solvent enough to do what you like in your free time.

  5. It is well known in my family that when I was 5, I wanted to be a yellow pencil when I grew up, or barring that, a crow birdie.

    Now that I am “grown up,” I’m content to be a good dad. Wings might be nice, though.

  6. For a while there when I was a kid (maybe 6 years old?) I wanted to be a farmer. Mostly, I think, because I had a straw hat that I probably got when we stayed at a bed and breakfast in Lancaster, PA. Oh, and also I had some overalls!

  7. I wanted to be a rabbi. Almost was one. Now I just want to be a bioethicist. Which I sort of am, I am just missing the final degree that allows me to call myself one.

    1. That is such an interesting field, in fact I’d probably go into it if I wasn’t already interested in theoretical psychology.

  8. With the space shuttle on its final voyage (snif snif) I am reminded that from the time I saw the very first shuttle voyage, I wanted to be one of those people at Mission Control. I know a cooler kid would have wanted to be an astronaut, but I imagined all the time and effort and smarts these people put into getting the shuttle off the ground and the thrill of having a successful mission. I can remember so clearly when the shuttle landed how everyone cheered and it gave me such a thrill. I even worked at Hughes for a while, but then drifted into another field of engineering.

    When the Curiosity Rover landed on Mars, I realized most of those people at Mission Control are now younger than I am. Where did all that time go???

  9. When I was little, I wanted to be a cowboy. Like, in the Old West. This desire was largely informed by reading Lucky Luke a lot (it’s a Franco-Belgian comic – look it up if you’re not familiar with it because it’s great). I wanted to ride my horse sitting backwards shooting the guns out of the hands of bad guys while calmly rolling a cigarette with my other hand.

    Later, I learned that that isn’t really what cowboys do and that the Old West is in the past and my growing up would be in the opposite direction temporally. So then I didn’t know what I wanted to be and I can say with some satisfaction that “I don’t know” is precisely what I’ve now grown up to be.

    But somewhere deep inside there’s still a six year old who wants to be a cowboy.

  10. My first response to that question was pastry chef.

    I got a little older and my gaming hobby got bigger. Any sorts of games. Board games, family games, video games… all of it. It got big enough that sometime in high school I decided that making games is what I wanted to do.

    I had a natural aptitude for computer programming, got a CS degree from The University of Texas, and I’m happy to say that I’ve been a professional in the video game industry since 2001.

    I’ve told people in interviews, quite seriously, that if I didn’t get paid to do this I’d be doing it anyway at home as a hobby. It’s what I like to do. I like making up stories. I like building things. I like abstraction. I like making things that make other people happy.

    Still, though, there’s a part of me that still wouldn’t mind being a chef — and for many of the same reasons that I enjoy my current occupation!

  11. Y’know on those car commercials in teeny print at the bottom it says… closed course, professional driver.

    Why wasn’t that an option at my high school jobs fair??

  12. My career recapitulated the interests of my childhood. As a kid I was fascinated by rockets and space travel. My dream was to fly around the Solar System like Dan Dare but in those pre-Sputnik days there seemed little chance of my ever doing anything space-related. In my teens I tinkered with electronics and learned about science.
    Amazingly, my first professional job was designing an experiment to fly on a satellite. Later I was responsible for launching scientific experiments on rockets as part of the European space program. I was even well-placed to apply for a position as a payload specialist on the Space Shuttle but by then the idea of training for years for a few days of work in space didn’t appeal. I turned my teen-age hobby into a profession and spent the rest of my career developing electronic instruments for scientific research.
    It all shows that even the most unrealistic of childhood ambitions do sometimes work out and, with luck, you can make a good living doing things you enjoy.

  13. A.Real.Girl,

    I’m already grown up, so the question’s kind of pointless for me. :)

    But in all seriousness, I wanted to be a lot of things when I was little, from an owner of my own restaurant, to an archeologist. Never got to live out either of those fantasies.

  14. well, in the past I graduated from high school, went to university, went to university some more, got a job, established my career, met my partner in life, bought a house, married my partner in life…. so my new goal in life is babies. My entire being is consumed with establishing a family. I keep hoping that once I have those, I’ll finally feel like I’ve grown up… maybe.

  15. When I was a young girl my answer to my Nana when she asked me this same question was, “Me”.

    I cannot say much has changed since then, but I can say that this is a much harder aspiration than I originally anticipated. Not selling out, or buying in, staying true to yourself is a constant battle and one I have failed at countless times.

    My husband told his family that he wanted to be a fire truck when he grew up…but he is not a fire truck. So, there are more impossible dreams out there.

  16. I said to my biology teacher that I wanted to be a vet and he turned round and told me I wasn’t smart enough. The S O B it has taken me many years to get rid of that emotional baggage the git landed me with ( I am smart and with study I can do what ever I want) I do wish teachers would think before opening their mouths sometimes. Now I’m a stay at home, home educating mum and I am super happy. The one thing I did learn was life changes and you are allowed to change with it. You can change jobs and lifestyles however and when ever I want.

  17. I just want to save the world.

    In fact, it’s all I’ve ever wanted to do… save for that 10 years where I thought wanted to be an opera singer, but I still wanted to save the world as a hobby.

  18. I’ve already changed careers and found my calling as a teacher. But in five years I want to no longer be a procrastinator. 10 years at the most. I want to keep making lame jokes though.

  19. I really intensely want to work in freethought. Maybe for FFRF? For the time being, I’m going to keep blogging at TS and, and maybe apply for next season’s internship at the Foundation Beyond Belief.

    Activism <3

    1. Hey, I do that! It’s pretty awesome, and I feel lucky to have gotten the opportunity. Although I do sometimes miss delivering pizzas full time…

  20. I wanted to be an astronaut when I was little. Then a scientist and inventor when I was a bit older. Then a holistic healer (ugh, I know), when I was early teens. Then suddenly I was in the 11th grade taking a bunch of courses that led nowhere and realised I had to make a career choice fast.
    I was too young for the acceptance age for my first choice, and did not think I was smart enough for much else, so ended up doing something I did not love (but sometimes enjoyed) for ten years.
    I wish I had had some encouragement and guidance.

    I know a three year old girl who would like to be a zookeeper and an astronaut. :)

  21. When I was in kindergarten, I think I wanted to be a superstar like Madonna. Weird.

    At some point I wanted to be a traveling folk singer who drove all around performing in small to medium-sized venues.

    I sometimes think about becoming a voice actor one day…or even a “real” actor, on stage. I think it would be terrifying at first but then I’d really, really enjoy it.

  22. I want to be an employed scientist. I have the scientist part of that down, graduated with my phd in genetics in May, but haven’t been able to find work.
    I guess I’m halfway there…

  23. I think I want to be a computer programmer. At 38, I am self-studying in various languages and experimenting with what I’ve learnt. No idea what I’ll do with myself between the end of my current project and the time when I’m well-enough qualified to actually seek programming work.

    But having read FTB and the Skepchick network over the past year, I also want to be a social justice activist in my spare time. Right now I have little spare time (and am still developing my voice), but I try to leave supportive comments on posts defending oppressed minorities.

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