“What do you want to be when you grow up?”.
Forever, kids have been asked this question by well-meaning grown ups. Children can respond with myriad possibilities including, “I dunno”. When I was asked that question at age six I probably said I wanted to be a cowboy. When he was six years old one of my grandsons aspired to be a paleontologist.
However, as young people get into their last few years of school the question takes on a more serious note. When youthful emotions are most affected by raging hormones and a desire to fit in, it is challenging to focus on long term goals.
As we, the Class of 1962, approached graduation I recall only a few of us had specific career ambitions. Several of the girls intended to become teachers or registered nurses. A few of the guys planned careers as teachers or in the military. I think the majority were just like me, we didn’t have a clue about what our futures held. I wonder if that story is dramatically different today.
These days the potential for diverse, interesting and well compensated careers seems endless compared to earlier times. But for a teenager choosing a lifetime career is probably as difficult as ever. In my day there were more entry level jobs that required no advanced education or training but still provided opportunities to advance into a rewarding position. By contrast, today’s new workers may well find themselves relegated to lower wages and fewer opportunities.
A few years ago we attended a graduation ceremony at my alma mater George Elliot Secondary School. The brief biographies provided suggested somewhat dazzling futures for those eager young faces. Some planned great careers in technology, medicine or academia. A few young ladies aspired to have their own fashion design businesses; young men hoped to become not just welders, they hankered to build big budget custom cars. Interestingly, none mentioned working in an office, a bank, in government, driving a truck, selling insurance or working in retail. Those were the jobs that most of my class ended up doing and quite possibly many of today’s youth will follow in our footsteps. While these types of positions may lack glamour and high earnings they’re more readily available and constitute the backbone of our economy.
For most entering the labour force it may come down to simply finding a decent job that will allow us to find freedom and independence from our parents. When a pay cheque is the driving motivation it’s sometimes difficult to consider all the finer points ie: what sort of career path can be hoped for and what’s offered in terms of benefits and pensions at retirement? More often than not, workers move from job to job, one career to another. With luck the opportunities and rewards improve and life will be good. Often, it’s not until retirement or pre-retirement that we reflect on how we got from school to the present so quickly and perhaps with no real plan. I know this with certainty because it is pretty much the story of my own life and more than a few of my friends. After graduation, I did anything that would keep gas in my car and a little beer money in my pocket. Many of us choose a new home or car with as much forethought as we do our life’s work. We find a job, then hopefully a better one, and so on and so on. None of this is to suggest that those of us who go through life without a specific plan or profession have somehow failed. Many of the most successful people today have come from our ranks of the uncertain and the uncommitted.
I have been retired for [thirteen] years, having spent my working life in the financial world, but having worked with various organizations each one different than the others. Were any of them what I would have chosen as a seventeen year-old high school grad? Probably not. Ask most people, even those whose positions and accomplishments we respect, whether there might have been something else they’d have preferred to do in their working lives. Don’t be surprised if they mention something quite unrelated.
I’m fortunate to have few regrets about my working life. We made a conscious decision to pursue quality of life over quantity. Our choice was to enjoy living in a place that offered those things we considered most important to us. For the past [forty-three] years that place has been Okanagan Centre.
While many of us older folk may look at youth today with a degree of envy, I would not want to be faced with that age-old question, “What do you want to be when you grow up?”.
Rich Gibbons, Okanagan Centre
This article was previously published in The View in Lake Country, March 27, 2017.