When I Grow Up

Original illustration by sophomore artist Karen Horta

Original illustration by sophomore artist Karen Horta


A child is taught at such a young age that in order to survive in society, you have to be a job to survive. It’s so that when they’re older, not all of them will live in their parent’s basement eating chips on a dirty couch. “When I grow up…” is what young children start a very significant sentence off with. “When I grow up, I want to be a movie star.” or something like “When I grow up, I want to be a Firefighter” are common answers.

I remember in preschool when I was asked this question for the first time. My peers would say things like “I want to be a baker when I grow up.” Or “I want to be a policeman when I grow up.” I, however, was different. I heard so many examples of what to say and I still didn’t have an answer. When someone said “Nia, what do you want to be when you grow up?” I would just simply respond with three words: “I don’t know.”

“But what do you mean you don’t know? You can be whatever you want,” they would say. If you really think about it, it makes no sense to ask a four year old what kind of job they want when they get older, when they don’t even know the alphabet yet. Most of the time, the four year olds who say they want to become a movie star just end up with a regular nine to five job with an average salary.

People later discovered that I was interested in the performing arts. I loved to sing, dance, act, and to perform for other people and make them happy. So people asked me the question again, assuming I want to become an entertainer when I grow up, and I still responded with the three words: “I don’t know.” I never wanted to respond to this question and give a wrong answer that might not be true, but I didn’t want to have a basic response either.

I always wanted to actually find an answer to this question, and still, I have no confirmed answer. In the future I may not be an entertainer, I might be a writer instead. Or I might not be a writer, I might have a basic nine to five job just like most people in society, or I might have my own business where I have my own schedule.

One of my favorite musicians, John Lennon, has given me an idea of how to answer the well-known question in just one of his quotes: “When I was 5 years old, my mother always told me that happiness was the key to life. When I went to school, they asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. I wrote down ‘happy’. They told me I didn’t understand the assignment, and I told them they didn’t understand life.”

I may not find the answer to the question everyone asks. Or maybe I will. The thought of the question takes me a long time to think about, but I don’t want a crystal ball telling me what I will actually be. Will I ever grow up? Will I ever find out what I was destined to do, or will I find out how I want to act when I get older? I’m sorry that I still don’t have an answer to this question, but do you?

What do you want to be when you grow up?

– by Nia Rainer ’18