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So … What Do You Want to Be When You Grow Up?

March 9, 2014

One of the really great things about being ‘retired’ is that you no longer have to think about what you want to ‘be’ when you ‘grow up’ (not that I have any intention of ‘growing up’, mind you – I’m just saying …). I have had four distinct ‘career paths’ in my lifetime (not counting babysitting and the two part-time convenience store jobs I had in high school).

Career Path

In each case, I sort of ‘fell into’ the various professions (aside from the first one, that is – it was ‘chosen’ for me when my dream of a career in Journalism fell through). I never planned for (or actually ‘chose’) the careers I’ve had – it was just a case of ‘right place, right time’ (combined with considerable hard work and a ‘never-say-never’ attitude when opportunities presented themselves) that saw me go from being a secretary / admin assistant to a curriculum designer to a (part time and later full-time) college professor / corporate trainer to a web design goddess (a title bestowed on me by one of my students that I just love) and back again to college professor (over a 40 year period).

And while each and every job I undertook was rewarding in its own way, and I was damn good at all of them, there were periods in my life when I would daydream about all the other jobs I might have pursued. Some of them were, of course, not even remotely plausible; some were probable but not possible (generally due to lack of education, talent or locale); a few might have been do-able if I’d had the nerve to leave the comfort of know-how, experience and an assured paycheque to pursue them. Still, looking back, I have no real regrets that I never became a(n):

  • The Big ValleyCowgirl. This was the first ‘job’ I remember wanting to pursue. In the late 1960s I was a big fan of TV westerns, particularly ‘The Big Valley’. I wanted to ‘be’ Audra Barkley (played by Linda Evans) and ‘grow up’ to be as strong and resourceful as Victoria Barkley (played by Barbara Stanwyk).  Unfortunately, I didn’t know how to ride a horse and ‘cowgirl’ wasn’t exactly a career path as defined by the public school system, so I let the idea go. (NOTE: I still have ‘learn to ride’ on my list of ‘Things to do before I die’.)
  • Library Club Grade 9Librarian. This was a strong contender in my early high school days. I loved books (and still do) and I’m a sorter-organizer by nature. During Grade 9 and 10, I belonged to the Library Club and I’ve always loved spending time in the Library (still do). Somehow, though, the idea of working in one gradually faded away. (Coincidentally, however, I taught several tech-related courses to students in the Library Techniques program at our local Community College during the 1990s).
  • DrummerDrummer in a Rock and Roll Band. I’m a closet ‘air drummer’. There are sequences in certain songs that just make me want to pick up a pair of drumsticks and go to town! However, there was no money for drums or lessons when I was growing up and eventually I gave up on the notion. (I do, however, keep threatening to buy myself a set of drums; my husband [bless his heart] has promised to thoroughly insulate [i.e., soundproof] a room for me. Who knows? Maybe I’ll put together a kick-a** rock and roll band of women over 60 someday!)
  • Janis Joplin & Grace SlickSinger (in a Rock and Roll Band). I am NOT a good singer. Never was. Can’t carry a tune at all. When I was in my early teens, I joined the Youth Choir at our church because they’d let just about anyone sing in the choir. I was also quite fond of belting out tunes (alone, in my basement bedroom) along with Diana Ross and the Supremes, Janis Joplin, Aretha Franklin, (Sonny and) Cher, Tina Turner, and Jefferson Airplane (I desperately wanted to be Grace Slick!) Eventually, I accepted my lack of talent and stuck to singing in the car (which I still do) and to my boys at bedtime when they were little (I still maintain they fell asleep just to get me to stop!)
  • Go Go DancersGo Go Dancer. I had the boots! I had the mini skirts! I had the fish net stockings! I had the moves! Unfortunately (or maybe fortunately) I never had the opportunity.  I did bust a few moves at local dances at The Pineroom, the Masonic Hall, and the YMCA during the 1960s and early 1970s, but I never got to dance professionally (and now I dance as ‘exercise’ – how sad is that?!?!?!?)
  • My Fashion CreationFashion Designer. My mother taught me to sew when I was about twelve years old; from that point on, I made most of my own clothes. I admit to using store-bought patterns, but I would add the odd flourish of lace or flare of a cuff here or there to customize the outfits.  When I finally got to take ‘Home Ec’ in Grade 11, the teacher told me there was nothing she could teach me that I didn’t already know (she did ask me to ‘model’ the clothes I’d made on several occasions, to show the other students what was possible). I briefly considered fashion design as a career (our local community college was one of the few places in Canada that offered a diploma program) but the cost of tuition plus supplies was out of reach, so I shifted my focus once more (to Journalism, a career that didn’t pan out because I couldn’t afford the tuition and my parents and high school guidance counsellor thought it was a bad idea, anyway).
  • Delta Stewardess Ad 1970Stewardess. This was considered a ‘first-class’ (pun intended) career in the 1960s and 1970s and one that quite a few girls my age at the time (16 – 18) considered pursuing. You didn’t need a college education – all you needed was to be ‘bright, resourceful, alert, cool, collected, sociable, reliable, bubbly, confident, and pretty’. Unfortunately, (according to the airlines of the time) ‘pretty’ meant you didn’t wear glasses (which I had done since I was ten). Since contact lenses weren’t a viable option back then (cost and discomfort being the key issues), I had to let this one go, too (although I still think I would have looked really great in the uniform).
  • 1970s Adding MachineBookkeeper: I’ve always been good with numbers and my fingers really fly when I’m sitting at an adding machine. During my year at secretarial school I was ‘placed’ (during a short, unpaid ‘internship’) with a small local accounting firm to perform basic bookkeeping tasks. I found the work moderately challenging, got an exceptionally positive review from my employer, and received a post-graduation job offer. But while I liked the environment and the people I worked with, I just couldn’t see myself ‘crunching numbers’ for a living. (I eventually accepted a job as a junior legal secretary with a small downtown law firm, thus launching career #1, which led to all the others).
  • Cruise Director - Love BoatCruise Ship Director. This was sort of an offshoot of ‘Stewardess’ above, prompted by the fictional life and work environment of ‘Julie’, the Cruise Director on (the TV series) ‘The Love Boat’. At the time (late 1970s), I was working as an administrative assistant in the Instructional Development department of our local community college, earning a generous salary and enjoying considerable autonomy.  I also had a house, a husband, a cat, and a close knit group of friends I didn’t fancy leaving behind for ‘life on the high seas’, so I didn’t pursue it. (I also had no experience with cruise ships, and didn’t know that I’m actually somewhat prone to sea sickness, which might have been something of a hindrance to a career on a cruise ship.)
  • Interior Design TemplateInterior Designer/Decorator. One of the many instructional texts I helped design and develop during my second career (instructional designer) was a book on ‘Interior Design’. I worked closely with the college’s lead professor (a professional Interior Designer and a woman as detail-oriented and finicky as they come).  I found the subject matter quite intriguing, but the idea of working with people like the text’s author discouraged me from pursuing it as a career (nothing was ever ‘quite right’ with the work we produced [no matter how many times we revised it to HER specifications]; at one point the graphic designer and I toyed with the idea of taking a hit out on her).
  • Giraffes At The ZooZookeeper. I love animals. Domestic, exotic, wild, tame, cute, fearsome – doesn’t matter. When I saw the help wanted ad for ‘animal care associates’ for the new Toronto Zoo (which opened in 1974), I actually prepared a resume and seriously considered submitting it. I didn’t care if I had to shovel elephant poop or spread nesting material for the monkeys, I just wanted to work at the zoo! The problem was primarily location – the zoo was being built east of Toronto and I lived 30 miles west of the city. Travel time would have been over an hour each way (or more, as time went by and traffic levels increased). Moving to a suburb closer to the zoo was an option, but I loved my house and I’d planned on staying in my ‘hometown’ for the rest of my life, so  I backed down.
  • Casa LomaMuseum Tour Guide. This was a very brief flirtation. A colleague at the College where I was working saw an ad for a tour guide at Casa Loma in Toronto and told me about it. While I loved the idea of the job, I loathed the location (downtown Toronto is a nightmare to reach during rush hour; living in ‘the city’ wasn’t a viable option, financially or emotionally), so I took a pass.

There is, of course, one ‘career’ I haven’t included on this list: novelist (something I’ve wanted to ‘be’ since I was 16 or 17). That’s because I’m still actively pursuing it even though I’m on … the other side of 55.

Diane Ackerman: Width Of Life

  1. March 10, 2014 5:16 pm

    Hurry up with your pensioners rockstar band, our locals are already at it.

    • March 12, 2014 9:42 am

      If the Rolling Stones and what’s left of the Beatles can do it, why not us, right?

  2. March 10, 2014 12:00 pm

    Didn’t every girl who grew up in the 60’s want to be a go-go dancer and a rock and roll singer? Me too! But you were one step closer than I was — you had go-go boots!! I always wanted a pair. It was fun strolling down your wanna-be list. Mine included ‘famous actress and writer.’ Well, I think I’ll hang up that pipe dream of acting, but I’m still holding onto the writer one…who knows?

    • March 10, 2014 1:17 pm

      I figure every time I got up in front of a classroom full of 20-somethings and ‘strutted my stuff” (as a ‘subject-matter expert’), I was acting! And, like you, I’m not giving up on the writing thing!

  3. March 10, 2014 7:43 am

    Go-go boots. I had a pair of white ones I absolutely loved. They were platform as well.
    We lived in a tiny town in North Eastern Ontario when I was a kid. The only “office” I ever saw was the receptionist at the doctor’s office but I made up my mine I would learn to type and work in an office. It’s all I ever wanted and I learned to do both.
    I know about falling into jobs and hard work. We took opportunities where and when they came and never turned up our noses at anything. I remember that best. 😀

    • March 10, 2014 8:09 am

      My Go-Go Boots were white too (although I also had a pair of beige ‘faux suede’ ones too! Both my sisters were ‘secretaries’ so when I found out I couldn’t go to college, that seemed the ‘logical’ choice. I enjoyed the work and it led to so many other great things! We definitely took the jobs that were offered and I don’t recall ever complaining (like the current generation does) that it was ‘too hard’. You just ‘did’.

      • March 10, 2014 12:07 pm

        I’m with you all the way. This current generation of must haves but will nots. 🙂

  4. March 9, 2014 3:14 pm

    I remember wanting to be a zookeeper! I had that dream for years. I can’t seem to recall why I never did anything about it, though. Laziness could have had something to do with it…lol.

    • March 9, 2014 3:57 pm

      With two cats in the house and a few dozen squirrels, a raccoon family and a skunk living in my backyard, I’m practically a zookeeper now!

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