Occupational Dreams

By Jade Walker


I have always been one of the fortunate few who started out with a dream and actually achieved it.

As children, we're all advised by our parents, teachers and society at large to fully experience life and dream up the most amazing futures. "You could be president of the United States someday," we're all told, and as innocents, we believe it.

Children follow this advice and keep their options open. Ask any child what they "want to be when they grow up," and you'll receive a plethora of responses, everything from dancer to doctor to astronaut.

When my brother was younger, he used to say he wanted to be a ditch digger because then he wouldn't have to go to college. Although I wanted to be a dancer/choreographer -- along the lines of Debbie Allen or Mikhail Baryshnikov -- I would still turn over my little table and pretend to put on mini-newscasts discussing plane crashes and Reaganomics.

Once a child reaches the dreaded teen years, the options for occupational dreams narrow. Grades become all-important sign posts in deciding one's future, and students are immediately broken up into three distinct groups: vocational castoffs, average joes and honor students.

I feel particularly bad for the first group. It's not that these kids are stupid. Many of them come from troubled backgrounds or suffer from learning disabilities, and this awful label dictates their futures more than any hopes and dreams ever could.

The average joes are typically herded through the most boring and menial classes. They are told in quiet ways that they'll never reach greatness, and the best they can hope for is "The American Dream" -- a spouse, a couple of kids and maybe their very own house in the suburbs to match their 9 to 5 job.

The honor students are probably the strangest group. They're offered dozens of opportunities, genuine chances to obtain any goal, and yet many squander it. They are unable to focus their attentions in one area, or they never really follow their talents into an exciting career. Instead, these students either become incredibly successful or suffer through an endless stream of boring, bureaucratic jobs that leave a stain of utter boredom on their souls.

There are the exceptions to all the rules, of course, and I truly believe the exceptions can become the rule. We're told as children to follow our dreams. I urge adults to do the same thing.

Bev Walton-Porter is a successful freelance writer. She works full-time from home, and somehow manages to raise two kids and run several committees in her spare time. Yet something in her yearns for more.

As 2001 neared, she could have sloughed off that yearning and just continued living her very busy life. Instead, at 30-something, she's going back to college and taking a full courseload of classes.

Unlike many in colleges today, she's not just looking for that piece of paper at the end. Bev genuinely wants to learn, and apply what she learns in school to her life. She's getting an education for herself, and she's setting an excellent example for her children to follow.

Jed Miller recently suffered through a common occurrence in today's faltering economy -- the dreaded layoff. After spending years at The New York Times, he was pink-slipped and sent on his way. Instead of seeing this as a devastating blow, Jed has decided to explore some new options.

He can get another job. He can write the play that has been laboring away in his imagination. He can travel a bit or take a short vacation. What started out as a depressing turn of events has morphed into a huge opportunity. You see, Jed can do what many only dream of doing -- he can start over.

As I said, I've always been pretty fortunate. Since I was a kid, I knew I wanted to be a journalist and a novelist. Despite one other tempting offer in college, I've pretty much kept a tunnel vision view on these goals. No, I didn't get that Pulitzer by the time I was 24 (much to my dismay), but I've succeeded in other areas and continue to work on making my success last. My dream was to be a writer and I am one.

What is your dream? If someone asked you as a child, "What do you want to be when you grow up?" would your answer have been your current job? Or something different and infinitely cooler? It's never too late to make those dreams come true.