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Mama Said: Can our kids live their career dreams?

What did you want to be when you grew up? Emily Martin wanted to be Kylie Minogue but it hasn’t worked out. . .

How can we help our children make their career dreams come true? (62123474)
How can we help our children make their career dreams come true? (62123474)

A 2020 survey revealed the pandemic has rejigged the usual answers of children who now say when asked what job they’d like to do that they’d prefer either doctor or nurse first. Followed in third place by being a social media influencer and after that they choose firefighter, footballer, musician, vet, teacher, actor or police officer.

When I was a child I wanted to be a vet (because I had a cat and she needed me) or an actor (because I watched a lot of TV and that’s where I saw most grown-ups, specifically on Ramsey Street). Or even more specifically I just wanted to be plain old Kylie Minogue. She seemed to have it all: beauty, a string of hit records and Jason Donavon. What more could a little girl in the 1980s want?

But I didn’t grow up to be Kylie. I didn’t do the vet training to be a vet, or go to a single audition to kick start my acting career. And frankly I was never going to be a pint-size pop princess was I? I was already taller than Kylie at the age of nine and not even the whisper of a hit record ever came my way.

So when, aged around 23, I emerged from my education ready to get started, I found I didn’t have any of the skills I needed to get to work. I found I was unqualified and inexperienced for most things. And with my degree (English, Media and Cultural Studies) my only choice was to apply randomly for administration roles in offices in Cambridge where I was now doomed to live with my parents until I won the lottery (which I didn’t even play). No offence meant to Cambridge (or my parents), obviously.

There are some decisions you make very young that really do impact on your future choices and career planning was badly handled for my generation I think. When I chose my degree I just picked English because I liked reading and writing (correction: I could read and write). And then I added “Media and Cultural Studies” because I had a vague sense that I enjoyed watching TV and thought it sounded a bit like that. What a scholar! Really Cambridgeshire, where is my Blue Plaque? Nowhere in my career planning had I investigated whether doing this degree for 3 years was a good start for becoming what I wanted to become. And what’s more, I had no idea what I wanted to become having never given it much thought at all.

I just rode the wave of my late teens and early 20s, having fun with my friends and thinking it would all work out. We’d done “work experience” in Year 10 where I’d written on my form that I might be interested in journalism and was promptly sent to a local travel agent to type up holiday itineraries. The hours dragging past on the huge wall clock and us all sitting in a small room silently typing. I couldn’t believe this was the world of work, it seemed awful. They would let me go home early most days and even paid me £20 at the end of the fortnight so it wasn’t all bad. But I was so happy to be out of there and no further forward in figuring out what “work” was going to mean for me a few years later.

So when it comes to my children, I feel it’s my job to help them understand all this. And quickly. Oh sure I want them to enjoy their childhoods, play on the swings, climb a tree, etc. But also if they’re to have a hope in hell on this crowded planet, they need to come down from the tree, set their alarm clocks for 6.30am and get to work.

Girl wants to be a teacher. She’d be an excellent teacher, she’s so patient with younger children (like her brother) and she loves to make things and explain things. Either she’ll be a teacher or a Blue Peter presenter (if it’s still on). She’s brilliant at working things out, putting things together, solving problems. At nine she’s already the person in the house I go to if I can’t understand how something works.

And Boy says he wants to be a doctor like his Dad. But motivated not by pandemic bravery but more by just wanting to be with his dad at all times. Or he just cries a bit when I ask him and says he doesn’t want to get a job. I know, son. I know.

I do at least try to have the “What do you want to be when you grow up?” chat with them in a bit more detail than anyone ever had with me. When they give me their answers I say enthusiastically: “Oooh well then you’ll need to do this and study that” as I watch them absorb the information either inspired or put off. But at least there’s some detail. I wonder what people used to say to me when I blinked up at them and said I wanted to be Kylie Minogue? I don’t recall. But it can’t have been very constructive because I am not she. I do have her autograph though.


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