The Lost Dreams of Childhood

Today I read a fantastic article passed on to me by my friend Rachel. The article talks about much more than I can summarize here–I highly recommend you read it. Here’s one of the points that really stood out to me:

Maybe you never really wanted to be a cardiac surgeon in the first place. It just kind of happened. It’s easy, the way the system works, to simply go with the flow. I don’t mean the work is easy, but the choices are easy. Or rather, the choices sort of make themselves. You go to a place like Stanford because that’s what smart kids do. You go to medical school because it’s prestigious. You specialize in cardiology because it’s lucrative. You do the things that reap the rewards, that make your parents proud, and your teachers pleased, and your friends impressed. From the time you started high school and maybe even junior high, your whole goal was to get into the best college you could, and so now you naturally think about your life in terms of “getting into” whatever’s next.

This got me thinking: What did I want to be when I grew up? I can think of two specific things, and perhaps my mother can expand upon them in the comments section without embarrassing me too much.

  1. I wanted to be an architect. It started with a fascination with Thomas Jefferson and evolved into an adoration of Frank Lloyd Wright. Specifically, it ignited when I learned that Frank Lloyd Wright designed his own home. That seemed like the best idea ever. I wanted to be an architect so I could design my own home. And I wanted it to have secret passages.
  2. I wanted to be an inventor. This one started when I watched Honey, I Shrunk the Kids. I was fascinated by the shrinking machine. I’ll try to find a picture of it for this blog, because this machine was a young inventor’s wet dream. Amazing stuff.

Now I’m 30. I went through college to get a business degree and to become fluent in Japanese. I worked for a publishing company and currently work for a church. I’ve started one web-based business that failed and am currently involved in a fiction publishing startup. I do a very small amount of marketing for a local barbershop.

I am not an inventor or an architect. And I’m okay with that. But I think it’s worth revisiting those lost dreams of childhood, those days of awe and wonder and curiosity, to try to decipher what sparked my desire to be an inventor and an architect. What parts of myself have lain dormant while I busied myself with getting into a good high school, getting into a good university, getting into a good position at a good company, getting into a condo, getting into a comfortable life?

I think there’s untapped potential and knowledge in our childhood dreams. And so I ask you: What did you want to be when you grew up?

16 thoughts on “The Lost Dreams of Childhood”

  1. I wanted to be a Mommy, work at McDonald’s, and own a roller skating rink. I don’t really think anything in there is untapped potential or knowledge in my case. I’m not too disappointed about never working at McDonald’s, or owning a roller skating rink since it secretly terrified me to let go of the edge.
    I think I wanted to be a Disney Princess in there somewhere, but unless Disney wants to use me as someone’s voice I don’t think that’s going to happen anytime soon.

    • I think my sister wanted to work as a cashier at the grocery store when she grew up (when she was really little). Not all that dissimilar to your McDonald’s aspirations. 🙂

  2. I think there’s a lot of truth to people just going with the flow. I know I did. Sometimes it’s easy to fall into that trap in high school. You focus on getting into a good college, then a good grad school. Pretty soon you’re “stuck” doing something you don’t want to do. I, for one, felt like there was strong societal pressure to do something prestigious or white-collar after going to Wash. U (and esp. after getting a law degree).

    • All of that makes me all the more impressed that you chose to follow a dream of yours instead of continue being stuck. At the same time, I don’t think it always takes a drastic life change to get unstuck. Sometimes big changes are the toughest to make, so we keep putting them off. I think there are ways to get in touch with the dreams of our youth (or the dreams of our current selves) in small, manageable steps.

  3. Jamey, you always dreamed about being Vice President of the United States; standing next to the a good friend who wanted to be President.

      • I remember worrying as a child that I’d be forgotten after I was dead. At the time, the way to be remembered was to be written about in school history books…which were largely filled with info about presidents, so I naturally figured that was the way to go. I probably talked you into running as well.

        Little known fact: Jamey actually was voted Vice President once (that I know of). When we were youngsters, we participated in a childhood competition called Goldmind Games. There were hundreds of kids from the Richmond area who did this. Jamey and I were on different teams one year in which the objective was to carry out a simulated political campaign. Jamey was the Vice Presidential candidate for the winning team!

        • This is a true story. The one time I ran for any sort of political office, I won. 1/1. 100%. I think it’s best not to blemish that record. (It also should be noted that the only reason Trev’s campaign for president didn’t succeed is that he got caught in a scandal involving use of campaign funds for buying extra juice boxes for all of his staff.)

        • I was also a participant in the Goldman’s games, and recently trying to find a curriculum or mission statement while talking to a friend, does anyone know who ran them? Does the competition still exist in some form?

  4. I wanted to be a ballerina. I took dance lessons for about 7 years and loved it, but then I became a teenager – and high school, tests, dances, driver’s license, and jobs came along … then college and working. But you know what has sparked my interest in dance again? Dancing With the Stars. It may sound corny, but it really reminded me of how much I love to dance – so it’s prompted me to consider taking some ballroom or Latin dance lessons, or to just go to an open dance night sometime in this new year.

    I also wanted to be a pianist in the Symphony. Again, I took piano lessons for about 7 years as well, and the same thing happened as with the dance lessons. But, I’ve realized that I really miss playing the piano and what a shame it is that I’ve gotten so rusty over the years. So I’d love to be able to brush up on my piano and just play for fun this year.

  5. I wanted to be a dentist, a meteorologist or vulcanologist until about junior year in high school when I decided I was not smart enough.

    • A vulcanologist sounds like the coolest job ever.

      I heard a standup comedian on Comedy Central the other day comment that the world would be a really interesting place if everyone had to have the first job they ever wanted. He said there would be a lot of ninjas and princesses walking around.


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