What Do You Want to Be

“What do you want to be when you grow up?”

Remember when adults asked this question? What did you say? If you were a little girl, was it something normal and expected or did the adult asking stare at you dumbfounded and wonder what in the hell was wrong with you.

Usually I got that dumbfounded look. Eventually my parents’ friends stopped asking, afraid I think either I would continue to give them answers they didn’t understand or they were embarrassed by. Too often, my answers also humiliated my mother; I paid for these later when there was no one was around to stop her.

Some of my more interesting answers, all given prior to my tenth birthday:

Gypsy Rose Lee in her heyday

Gypsy Rose Lee in her heyday

  • I want to be a gypsy, live in a wagon and travel the world.
  • I want to be Gypsy Rose Lee; I had seen a poster of her in a friend’s basement and thought she was fabulous.
  • I want to be a courtesan. I didn’t really understand this one but we had recently toured some castle in either France or England, it had been built for a Kings favorite. This seemed like a good occupation.
  • I want to be an artist.
  • I want to write books.
  • I want to dance.

Some fine adult shocked by my list of what I wanted to be finally asked the question, “Don’t you want to get married?” Of course, others would ask in dismay, “Don’t you want to have babies?”

As a side note, I never played with baby dolls and tended to abuse Barbie’s. I simply wasn’t very girlie.

“No,” I said wisely with a shake of my head, “married isn’t for me”. Oddly, I would marry three times before I was forty, none of them took. Perhaps I was correct at the time, marriage truly wasn’t for me at a young age.

“Don’t you want to be a nurse or maybe a fairy princess?”

“Silly there isn’t any such thing as fairies,” I sagely counseled the adults who asked, “and I don’t like sick people,” I shamelessly added.

I was not a normal little girl at all, introverted and with a rich inner life, I had little desire for friends and found most the adults around me slightly silly. My dreams tended to be fed by the books I read or the landscapes I was exposed too. The two and half years we spent in Europe provided fodder for an imagination that built worlds peopled by those who loved me and led me on adventures too feed a starved soul.

Then I grew up, harshly and with little transition time between childhood and adulthood. No time to feel my way gently through those awkward stages of pre-teen when we discover who we might become or might wish to be, instead I was just forced through to the other side. My heart faltered, froze to be honest. My imagination took to darker roads.


Huntress, DC Comics

“What do you want to be when you grow up?”

  • I want to dance.
  • I want to write books.
  • I want to be an artist.
  • I want to be a stewardess, I want to see the world and never stop traveling.
  • I want to be a masked avenger and kill those who hurt others, especially children and girls.

All these were told to those fine adults when they asked me between the ages of 11 and 12. Just one year, during that year of course something terrible had happened to me. Because of the last answer, a school counselor suggested to my parents I had a ‘slight’ problem and perhaps they should get me some help.

I attempted to burn down the playhouse at the child physiologists’ office when he asked me to demonstrate how I felt about my home life. I rescued my brother and the dogs first. He concluded I had deep seated problems, he didn’t ask why I did that. I concluded he was an idiot and refused to return.

I learned one thing after this adventure. Keep my less socially acceptable thoughts to myself; they could get me in trouble.

“What do you want to be when you grow up?”

Wendy Davis

Wendy Davis

  • I want to dance.
  • I want to write.
  • I want to be an artist.
  • I want to travel and take pictures to show the world as it is.
  • I want to be an attorney and argue before the Supreme Court.
  • I want to be a politician and change the world.
  • I want to change the world.

The last time someone asked me, what I wanted to be when I grew up I was nearly 15. It was just before I ran away for the last time. It was just before my world would change and my life would change forever. What I wanted to be? I wanted to be all of those things, not just some of those things. Even then, even at that age, I was locked into the world around me and I knew there was something desperately wrong, horribly incompatible with equity and fairness.

I wanted to change the world.

Now, forty-one years later I think the world is more wrong, the world needs more positive change. I ask myself, “What do you want to do before you are too old to do it?”

I find though, I am afraid. I am scared to death of lunatics with guns. I am scared beyond reason of just how much my life, my world, my history could be exposed and thus those I love could be harmed if I stepped outside of this small arena, the world of blogging. I am afraid I have lived a life full of potholes, mistakes and terrible pain and even those things over which I had no control over could be used to do great harm to those I care deeply for, could be used to destroy futures. So now, when the world most needs masked avengers, activists willing to use their powers for good I am brought to my knees in fear and I am both afraid and ashamed of my fear.

What did you want to be when you grew up? Are you doing it?


  1. Val we all have our fears… Without them we wouldn’t be human,,, I was afraid of never being loved as a child.. It took a great many years to understand I needed to love myself more..
    When I was a child I always said I wanted to be a nurse… But aged 15 i was sent to work in a textile factory….Being the eldest of 5 children, wages were important to the household!..

    What do I want to be now?
    The Best I can be…… we all can only try to be and do our best… Love to you Val

    • Isn’t it strange to look back? I think your wanting to be the best you can be is exactly right. Wanting to do the best we are able and be the best we can, this is lofty sometimes. We can stretch for our best and then we plummet to earth, either we stay there or we get up again. Hard sometimes to decide.

      Right now? I suspect I am in freefall a bit; flapping my wings really hard but still a bit of freefall. Nothing spectacular about this, nothing even terrible about it. Just normal life as we work through. Me? I want to be the best, I want to do more with the gifts I have been given, I want my loved ones to be safe. Thus the bit of freefall, how to find balance? I will sort it out.

      • You will Val, you always do…. the thing I find is not to worry over it… just let things be.. set your intention clear in your mind and let it go.. You will then find that before you know it your course is set and you will be doing things you never thought of .. as the doors of the Universe open to grant you your intention.. Its called Manifesting! LOL.. Happy days ahead.. xox

  2. Three things. 1) I have said for a long time that the question you pose is the most difficult question one will encounter in life … plus it doesn’t go away because most of us keep thinking about it.

    2) Because it relates to your post, the most important question encountered in life is who does one chose to hang around.

    3) Using your past and mentioning your fears help make this a powerful post!

    • Frank, I could not agree with you more regarding number 2. We are so often defined by our friends, for good or ill. Isn’t it true? We continue to consider what we want to do in life, no matter where we are, what stage of life we have reached, I was thinking of you when I answered CoastalCrone.

  3. I wanted to be my father’s son – I was the youngest of three daughters. You always write with honesty, Val, and make us consider our lives. You have done well!

    Jokingly I say, “I don’t know what I want to be when I grow up!” Silly at this age, but I am glad that I can still explore and have dreams. Maybe I’ll complete my book this year.

    • I can understand that desire I think, I wanted to be my brother; much beloved, petted and pampered. But then I also never wanted to not to be me, it was a conundrum.

      Oh, you know I don’t think it is a joke at all, I still ask this very same question. In just over two months I will be 56 and still don’t feel I am grown up. Still think there is much to do to get there from here. Complete your book, yes that is a good goal. Me? I think I will convince my husband to learn Ballroom Dance!

  4. I love the raw honesty of your blogs. “This is me”, you write, while most of us are content with the veneer we present to society and even worse, the denial we try to fool ourselves with. And because of this it’s probable you will get through life difficult as it is and at the end of it be able to say to your self, “I was more honest than the rest of you!” We all carry baggage of some kind but life seems to have dealt you a bad hand of cards in the past. I think your public writings will help you deal with your traumas a lot better than most who sweep their feelings under the carpet.

    • Thank you Ian, I know no other way to write but this, no other way to expose the world but through my own eyes and heart, which is sometimes raw.

      My father while he was alive, use to tell the story of my answers to “What do you want to be”. He actually thought it was quite funny, never knowing how humiliated my mother was.This is why I know how I responded to the questions. I think a part of him was proud I wasn’t normal, strange how different he and his wife were.

  5. I don’t remember being asked. I fumbled my way through and found out later in life and still working on it. I am being creative though. I can’t complain. Wish the path had been more direct.

    Married three times before you were 40? Marriage is always a work in progress.

    • I kept thinking I had to say yes, couldn’t say “no, I don’t want to marry you.” Seems this one is sticking though despite the hard work.

      I thought all adults asked that silly question of children. This was actually spurred by an essay I found, I had written it in the 10th grade. So we were even asked in school.

      I think perhaps we might all still be working on it, stumbling our way through. Your art is a fabulous outcome though to an indirect path.

  6. singleworkingmomswm says:

    Wonderfully honest post, as always, Val! I am not a “girlie girl” either and never have been. When I was a kid I used to tell people “When I grow up I want to be a garden worker!” That was it. A gardener. I loved getting my hands dirty and had the most awesome mudpie stand on the side of our backyard. My bff would just giggle at me. She wanted to get married and have two kids. I didn’t want any children when I was younger. Then, in the 6th grade I had a horrible teacher who was so mean to all us students. It was then I decided I wanted to become a teacher. I also justified my “having no children” at that point in saying I’d have a classroom fully of kids! I pursued teaching into the first 4 years of my college career then made a radical change and decided I wanted an art degree. I had talent, for sure, I had the desire to create. Just had no desire to make money from it. My folks have never quite understood why I did that, and I guess I don’t really know the answer. Obvsiously, my life is nothing like I said either as a 6-year-old or as a 6th grader. But, as the twists and turns have occurred, I’ve managed to put together a life now, with child, that is pretty, darn cool (when I’m not exausted, lol). Love ya!! XOXO-Kasey

    • Kasey I think you put together a life as I did, accidently. Perhaps still accidently stumbling toward the life that is perfect. You and your lovely daughter seem to be a pretty wonderful pair, cool yes. Gardening, digging your hands in dirt? Do you do this today? Growing things is wonderful, yesterday I stumbled across a picture I fell in love with; flower beds made to look like true beds! People are so genius.

  7. You have already lived many lives, Valentine and you HAVE accomplished a lot: running away, coming back to life, and all the rest. I wonder how you have managed to keep standing, but you have. Especially those who have accomplished the most believe they haven’t accomplished anything.

    As for myself, I had no grand allusions to anything as I wasn’t exposed to anything other than putting one foot in front of the other and caring about family. I did in my life what I dreamed and have no regrets. I’m a grandmother and retired but I do not feel grown up yet.

    • Do you wonder why so many of us do not feel grown up yet?

      Such a community we build here, talent, compassion and brillance. I find myself in awe of the people I am surrounded by. Nearly all of them humble, which also always humbles me.

  8. Impressive list, Val. I don’t think I had any expectations or ideas of what I wanted to be, so being anything was a wonder. I think, however, I did expect to be “happily married,” and that certainly didn’t pan out. Despite this, I ended up with a career I love, following my passion of writing, and become happily independent. Sounds good to me!

    • Sounds excellent to me!

      I had great expectations, I think I have begun to achieve some of them. I think I begin to see how others might be achieved. There are others that take on different shapes as I grow older.

  9. Dear Val,
    Don’t beat yourself up by being ashamed of your fear… you’re entitled to it, and your feelings are valid and important. And when you’ve allowed yourself to feel those things without judging yourself, and shaming yourself, you may find you feel different.
    All feelings are valid, and our body knows this, and insists on feeling the feelings until we allow them and accept them.
    This is probably double dutch…
    If you only ever did one thing with your life, your outreach work would be enough. I think it’s magnificent, and there are very few people with the courage, insight and compassion to be able to do it…
    What did I want to be… an opera singer when I was little, and after that I just gave up… the world seemed just too much and I had no say !!!!

    • An opera singer, how magnificient! I love that, of course I love the arts all of them.

      I try not to shame myself, I do. I think I have far more compassion for others, less for myself. This has always been the case. I have never understood it, but it has always been true. I am also very protective of those I care deeply for, thus I know the damage my choices can do to them and am cautious of them.

      You are so kind Valerie. I take heart.

  10. Val, I’m afraid, too. When I was a child I was nearly mute I was so lonely and afraid. By age ten I wanted to be a poet, and I am. I also wanted to paint, but that wasn’t to be. It could be, i suppose. My fears are mostly for those near and dear to me. I also have existential angst. I spent 32 years alone, and sometimes wondered if I existed. Deep thinkers like you can’t help but be rocked by waves of potential harm to you and others. Thank you for this post.

    • Gail, I am glad you have achieved a dream of what you wanted to be!

      Strange isn’t it how our fears of for those closest to us, these really are mine.

  11. What I want to be when I grow up? Let you know when I grow up 🙂

    You are Wonder Woman – that’s what I think you are 🙂

    • You are kind, thank you.

      I struggle with the when I grow up thing also Eric. I never feel as if I am quite there, wonder when I will be there. Always some new mountain to climb, new milestone to reach for. Strange isn’t it?

  12. Wonderful post, Val. I always wanted to love and be loved, make a difference in the world, and live such a life of generosity that it makes God glad to see me in the end. Ciao!

  13. I’m still pursuing my dream of being a professional, published writer. I have the first half of it down!

    • The pursuit of dreams is strange, it comes in fits and starts doesn’t it? I suspect you will achieve all of yours Alejandro. Just a belief I have.

  14. Great post Val and I’m still not very girly either

  15. Tall. I just wanted to be tall. Well, that ship has sailed. There was no clear objective set out for what I wanted to be. I think more than anything, I focused on what I did not want to be. I’m still watching to see how it all shakes out.

    • You and me both Honie, tall that is. I solved the problem by learning to walk in heels. Having achieved many of the things I didn’t want to be before I was 25, I had that one covered also.

      You and I are both still watching how the rest shakes out, I just have a few more years on you that’s all.

  16. I wanted to be a rodeo clown. I am.

    I love you. You do change the world.

    • Yeehaw! Just make sure you aren’t the one in the barrell.

      Thank you my sister, my friend. Not feeling much like that, not today. But thank you.


  17. I’m a teacher and before that, I wanted to write, so I’m doing that again. I loved art so I was a graphic artist and copywriter for a long while. However, I never feel like I’ve accomplished anything really until I connect with someone else. Good writing….

    • Thank you, on the writing that is.

      Like you, I look for the connections. I think maybe some of us need that. I have found despite my beginnings as a solitary child, those connections become more important to me now.

      It seems you have followed some of your dreams and are following more of them now.

  18. ◾I want to change the world.

    This is what you are already doing, Val.

    Our “VOICES” transform the world.

    Great Post. xxx

    What did I want to be: I wanted to dance like Pavlova.

    • Ahhh, me? Dance is what I always come back to also. Pavlova? Yes, I can see that.

      Our “VOICES” just sometimes seem so small. Today seemed one of those days for me.

      Thank you my great and dear friend. Love to you and your family.


  19. lesliewolman says:

    Great story Val. I was an adventurer as a child. I wanted to be a teacher but not just a teacher that all girls were thought to be. I wanted to be a healing teacher, touch chidrens’ lives that would creat whole adults, a magician, a wizard, a philosopher, a spiritual guide, buddah, a teacher, a mentor, a guide. I knew what I wanted to be for I was already forming my teacherdom as a child. It was growing within me. So when little girls are offered to be teachers or nurses; its not sexist, its becoming a healer.

  20. Val
    That is a remarkable story if how you grew up. I never even thought about that as a child. I never thought about what I wanted to be. I did wonder what I would end up doing. Only for the sake of curiosity.

    As I know you very well I would not begin to think you would adopt a philosophy such as mine on fearing the things of this world, but I think if I did not live my life with my head in the sand in regard to current events. I too would be scared of a lot of things in the world. I am just quite content in the blissful mess of my own ignorance.

    • We are different in our world views Tom, thus different in our strategies of how to live in the world. Each usually content I suspect. Today was one of those days where my angst overtook me.

      Me, I still want to shake the trees and change the world. I think this is so core to my personality it will never change.

      • I am glad to hear that Val. I respect that you are a doer and not just a talker. this post was different for you. Even though you identified some things that scare you it doen’t matter, because to me you are still wonder woman.


  21. Val, we would have been best friends if we’d known each other as kids. I hated dolls, hated the idea of being a nurse, loathed the idea of getting married. Even when I was getting married, while I was really happy, the idea of the hooplah of the wedding and the foof and the frills made me uncomfortable.

    I too have wanted to and tried to help. It is difficult, even here in the seat of organizations that are devoted to causes, to help except giving money or fundraising. Neither is for me.

    But you ARE doing things — your prison outreach work is incredible. Brave, helpful. Don’t sell yourself short because of what you aren’t doing when you are doing far more than others. Far more, I am ashamed to admit, than I am.

    • I think Elyse this week, well it struck me badly. Perhaps more so than I expected. I find myself wondering a great number of ‘what if’s’.

      There is more to it than I exposed in this, maybe I will get to the rest, unfold the rest of my angst over the next few days. But mostly it is just the f’ng world.

      • Yes, I know what you mean. I am loosing heart too. And too few people seem outraged enough to do anything.

  22. OneHotMess says:

    Oh,Val, we should really talk sometime. We have so much in common. This is lovely.

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