Being whatever you want to be

Published 10:58 pm Friday, February 25, 2011

What do you want to be when you grow up?

It’s a question I’ve personally been asked hundreds of times, which is a lot when you consider that I don’t quite feel grown up yet.

In elementary school, we had to draw ourselves as we would look in our future careers. The walls of the class that week were mostly filled with firemen, doctors and teachers. Judging by the quality of the drawings, very few of us were going to grow up to be artists.

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All I knew was what I didn’t want to be. Basically, I didn’t want to be like anyone else. I certainly didn’t want to be in the medical field; my mom’s horror stories easily steered me away from there.

By middle school, the responses grew in creativity. Some wanted to be rodeo clowns, while others wanted to wrestle alligators the way Steve Irwin did. I decided I wanted to be a jockey, which was about the craziest thing I could think of. And it turns out it really was crazy, since being the tallest person in class meant that I could never hope to race thoroughbreds.

By freshman year of high school, I had abandoned plans to become a jockey for my hope to become a horse veterinarian. But, after having to watch our family cat be put to sleep, I realized that I really didn’t want to have that job either.

There were a string of interests after that, including periods when I wanted to join the CIA or become a forensic scientist — both unusual choices for a young girl and both thanks then to popular TV shows.

In the end, it was a teacher who led me to a love of writing, which in turn led me to journalism. And here we are.

I still remember teachers telling us that our gender had nothing to do with what we could become.

And despite my own love of English, more of my female classmates were succeeding in math and science, fields generally dominated by boys. One of my good female friends even joined the varsity football team as the kicker, helping to boost the score for many of the games.

So it was with surprise that I learned that kids today still are having trouble seeing themselves in nontraditional roles, or careers in which a certain gender represents less than 25 percent of the workers.

In fact, a recent a career fair was held with the sole purpose of encouraging kids to have a career in a field their parents likely never considered joining.

I hope the Career and Technical Education Non-Traditional Careers Extravaganza has made strides in changing the mindset of teens who have never seen themselves in certain roles.

Until traditional gender roles are overturned, it’s up to all of us to continue encouraging future generations to be the best people can be, not just the best a woman or man can be.