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What do I want to be . . . and do?


© St. Petersburg Times, published July 31, 2000

First of two parts

When I was little, I was always told, "You can be anything you want to be when you grow up." At that time, I thought I wanted to be a person who rides on the back of the garbage truck when I grew up.

No, maybe I would rather be a firefighter. I know what I would like to be. I am going to be a teacher when I am an adult. Maybe it would be cool to be an astronaut or a movie star. I think I want a set of drums and a guitar because I'll need to learn how to play these to be a rock star. I may want to be the president of the United States, so you had better be nice to me. I need to wear glasses and use a calculator now because I am going to be a famous scientist and discover the cure for AIDS. I want to be rich and famous so everyone will know my name.

I used to think I had my life all planned out and that deciding what I would be when I grew up would be easy. The older I get, though, the less I know about what I want to do. I get very frustrated when other people my age say they know what they want to study in college and they sound so sure of themselves. I tell myself that it won't be long before I will graduate and I need to know the answer to that question. Why was I so sure of myself in the past, but now that it's beginning to really matter I have no clue? I feel really dumb and immature to even tell people I don't know what I want to do when I enter the work force.

I need to get scholarships when I graduate, but I will be totally embarrassed when they announce at the assembly that my major is "undetermined." Who majors in undetermined? I am already beginning to dislike it when one of my relatives asks me the career question. I hate their responses when I say that I am not sure. Part of me just wants to lie to them. I feel like telling them anything so I won't have to listen to the "Well, you're getting older now" lecture. I hate it when they tell me to just pick something where I can make lots of money. Every once in a while, one of my family members will stop and inquire about what I am interested in and tell me to go for what will make me happy. I seem to be better with that advice even though I still don't know how, at my age, I am supposed to know what will make me happy for the rest of my life.

I never dreamed that I would have this dilemma. When I was a kid it was exciting to pretend I could do anything I wanted to do with few limitations. My options seemed unlimited. It is a scary thing to hear that in the near future there will be more jobs in fields that don't exist now than in the traditional, existing job market. How am I supposed to select a career for my future when the job market is changing so rapidly? How am I going to be prepared for the future by getting the right education when I don't know what's on the horizon? I guess if I choose a career in the computer and technology arena, I would be guaranteed a job, but is this me?

Do I make my career decisions solely on the trends of my time, or will it be acceptable for me to select a more traditional career in the hope there will still be work to do in these areas? Do I listen to the people around me when they trash the teaching profession because teachers don't get paid enough to put up with "us" or the medical profession because HMOs are making medical practice difficult? Do I stay out of politics and ministry because of the bad choices some politicians and preachers have made that seem to taint the professions? Do I not even attempt to pursue my interest in music, acting or art as a career? I've been told that only "non-ambitious dreamers" select these fields! Anyway, only a few people ever make any money at these jobs, so why try?

I want to be me, and I have no clue what that means. What will I do when I grow up?

Next week: One step at a time

IT! (Private thoughts of the Indomitable Teen) is written by Cecilia Tucker, a licensed marriage and family therapist at the Counseling Center for New Direction in Seminole. Tucker, who has been in counseling practice since 1979, writes this column under the guidance of a panel of teenage advisers, who approve the topics and offer their insights (in exchange for pizza). You may write her c/o: IT!, X-Press, the Times, P.O. Box 1121, St. Petersburg, FL 33731, or e-mail

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