What Did You Want to Be When You Grew Up? [Survey]

young girl playing astronaut in a box

When you were five years old, maybe you dreamed of being a firefighter, one of those brave men who saved people’s lives every day. Or maybe you wanted to be a lawyer like your dad or a superhero like the ones you saw in comic books.

As you got a little older, your dreams probably changed. After all, you’re no longer five years old. You’re an adult with real responsibilities and real bills to pay every month. But just because you don’t want to enter burning buildings anymore doesn’t mean you don’t have a new dream to follow. And guess what? You can still make it happen.

We surveyed 300 Americans via a Google consumer survey to discover what they wanted to be when they grew up and what their dream career is right now. See if you can relate to their responses.

When I grow up I want to be …

Whether it’s a toy truck their friend has or an ice cream bar at the store, most kids know what they want—and they aren’t afraid to tell you. The only problem is that kids’ dreams are limited by what they know and understand at a particular moment in time. When you were a kid you probably didn’t know how much that truck cost and you certainly didn’t care if that ice cream would ruin your dinner.

The fun thing about kids’ “dream careers” is that they generally don’t know anything about annual salaries or duties and responsibilities or what kind of education is required to land a similar position—and, frankly, they don’t care. They only know that their dream job sounds fun, cool or exciting. In fact, when The Daily Mail asked kids what they thought the most important part of a job was, the majority said “having fun” or “helping others.”

Here are the top 10 careers our respondents wanted when they were kids:

  1. 1. Doctor
  2. 2. Teacher
  3. 3. Firefighter
  4. 4. Nurse
  5. 5. Baseball player
  6. 6. Veterinarian
  7. 7. Lawyer
  8. 8. Cowboy
  9. 9. Astronaut
  10. 10. Singer

Kids learn from everything around them, so most of these responses make sense. Doctors, teachers and nurses are prevalent in everyday life and often help children. A kid with a dog probably gets to know a vet pretty well. And of course, kids who grow up watching TV know all about athletes, singers and cowboys.

My ideal career position …

Being a doctor sounded cool when you were young because you got to help others, but then you grew up and realized that becoming a doctor takes a lot of work, education and time. Or maybe your interests simply changed and something else caught your eye. Whatever the case, adults tend to be more realistic about their careers than kids.

Well, a little more realistic, anyway. The most common career our survey respondents want now is to be retired. Retiring early is a dream of many, but it’s something few are able to do.

While it’s not the top 10 list, here’s a sampling of our respondents’ ideal careers now:

  • Firefighter
  • Teacher
  • Cop
  • Business owner
  • CEO
  • Artist
  • Accountant
  • Nurse
  • Game developer
  • Chef

As you can see, there is some overlap between what people wanted to be when they grew up and what they want to be now. And it makes sense, because many of the overlapping careers, like nurse, are solid choices for a first or even second career.

You’ll also notice that now people want careers they might’ve overlooked as children. What 7-year-old knows what an accountant or CEO is? Some answers might also stem from what people enjoy doing as adults—becoming an artist or game developer makes a lot of sense if you spend a lot of time already doing those things as a hobby.

Of course, that’s not to suggest many adults would ignore the chance to become an astronaut or princess tomorrow if given the opportunity!

It’s time to dream real

So, what did you want to be when you grew up? And what do you want to be now?

As we mentioned before, dreams are fun because they don’t have to be realistic. But here’s the thing—they can be. No matter how old you are, what kind of job you have or what commitments or obligations you have, you can still have that dream career. After all, it’s your dream so your dream career is whatever you want it to be.

Don’t know what your dream career is yet? That’s OK, too. Sometimes it just takes a little exploring to figure it out. A good place to start might be with this career roadmap. Be sure to examine all the possibilities before you narrow down your choices, and don’t limit yourself.

If you’re ready to take the next step, check out Dream Real to see how earning a degree can help put you on the right track to achieving your career dreams.

About the author

Elizabeth Xu

Elizabeth is a freelance writer for Collegis Education who writes student-focused articles on behalf of Rasmussen University. She enjoys writing engaging content to help former, current and future students on their path to a rewarding education.

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