Sunday Mail South Australia column: What do you want to be when you grow up?

So what did you want to be when you were growing up?

I asked my friends this very question over Twitter and received answers as varied as they are themselves. My friend Ally wanted to be a ballerina. With pierced ears. Phoebe wanted to be a bus driver. Jo wanted to own a pet shop purely so she could walk around with a parrot on her shoulder (as you do). My mate Molksy wanted to be a forensic psychologist. Actually he just wanted to be Quincy.  Thalia wanted to be a rock star. Anthony wanted to be a superhero. Meanwhile EJ wanted to be on Neighbours so badly she moved to Melbourne when she was seventeen and spent her days loitering around the street where they filmed in the hope of being discovered.  Back then EJ called this “being enthusiastic and ambitious”.  Now she calls it “being completely delusional and a little tiny bit stalky”.

What did I want to be when I was growing up? Well have a seat, readers. This could take a while. I wanted to be Mrs Donny Osmond. Tina Arena’s replacement on Young Talent Time. A primary school teacher. An actress. The blonde woman out of ABBA. And the fourth, shorter and plumper, member of Charlie’s Angels (assuming it was likely that one of Charlie’s Angels would have a bowl cut and a fondness for wearing her mother’s 4711 perfume). True to form, I spent much of 1982 running around our family’s backyard armed with a supersoaker dressed in swimmers and my mum’s high heels. The neighbourhood slept easy though. I successfully arrested our dog Mac about 329 times.

But what I really wanted to be was a children’s TV host. I was obsessed with it and spent much of my teenage years writing to TV stations pleading for auditions.  The good news? I scored auditions for every children’s show going. Wombat. Seven Super Saturday. Saturday Disney.  Remember those?   The bad news? I failed every single screen-test. Every one.  This is possibly because I had the on-screen presence of a ham sandwich.

It took me a long time to give up the children’s TV host dream. But I had to let it go. Mostly because nobody would hire me.

What I think is interesting is that despite the fact that I loved writing, adored English, spent my spare time writing short stories and poems and plays,   “author” never appeared on my  “things to do when I’m grown up” list. I think this is partly because I didn’t actually meet a real, live author until I was in my early twenties.  So as a career possibility, it wasn’t even on my radar.

(It’s different today. Today’s kids meet authors all the time. ALL THE TIME. I go into primary schools and say in my cheeriest, kid friendly voice, “Hello boys and girls, I’m an OR-THAR” in a tone that perhaps suggests the kids are deaf. And learning impaired.  And these five-year-olds yawn and look out the window with the expression of bored supermodels and mutter something about how last week they met Morris Gleitzman. )

But I digress.

These days, I can’t think of anything I’d rather do.  My work as a writer – of books and newspaper columns, of television scripts and radio jingles, of newsletters and speeches and travel features and let’s be honest, shopping lists – feeds my soul. And offers me more amazing opportunities then I ever could have imagined.  Plus I get to work from home in my pyjamas and still watch Dr Phil.

So what’s the moral to this tale? What’s my point? Well, clearly that next time your beagle commits a crime; I’m your girl. That’s a given. But also that I think we forget to tell our teenagers that not knowing what it is you want to do with your life is pretty normal.  That for most of us finding a career we love – that plays to our strengths and inspires and delights us – is really a matter of trial and error.  And the occasional restraining order (I’m looking at you, EJ).  But more importantly, that when it comes to choosing a career, loving something, being passionate about it, isn’t enough.  You can eat-sleep-dream being a singer, a model, a children’s TV host, Kylie Minogue’s long-lost half-sister on Neighbours but if you’re not actually any good at singing or modelling or acting or making small talk with a puppet, it’s just not going to happen.  Sucks, I know.   But it’s the truth.  So by all means – follow your dreams.  Just be smart and choose the right one.

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  1. Jacqueline Harvey on March 27, 2011 at 2:31 pm

    Great post Rebecca. I had similar ambitions as a youngster – except that I wanted to be the Farah Angel with big blonde hair! I also wanted to be a TV newsreader and for a while a brain surgeon until I realised blood wasn’t my thing. Being an author always held great appeal but like you I never met any when I was growing up – they were deeply mysterious creatures like Enid Blyton, who for a long while, as far as I was concerned resided in The Magic Faraway Tree. I wanted to be a teacher – so I became a teacher but I did hold fast to the author dream too. It just took a lot longer to get there. You might remember that we met a few years ago at Somerset and you advised me about your agent Catherine – well in a very convoluted way we ended up meeting and she sub agented the sale of my series to the US. So after many years of dogged persistance, bucketloads of patience and lots of hard work I have a new series about a little girl called Alice-Miranda. Random House Australia have contracted 8 books so far (the first three are out since Feb 2010) and on Tuesday week I realise a HUGE dream. Alice-Miranda at School is being launched in the US by Delacorte Random House. So while I never nudged Sandra Sully off her chair, I have become a writer too. I still work full time at a school for girls but I get to combine my loves of working in a school and writing. I couldn’t agree with you more about following your dreams – but you can’t expect that everything will fall into place without a little bit of ability and loads of hard work.

  2. Rob Elliott on March 27, 2011 at 11:23 pm

    When I was young, I too had many ambitions. So let’s see. Astronaut, Robin Hood, World Champion MotorBike rider, football (yes you call it soccer) star, addtional member of the A-Team.
    All of these I thought I’d be great at. I especially liked the idea of being Robin Hood. Being a Robin myself, I deludedly thought we had some connection as we were called the same name. I did stop short of wearing tights on our visits to Sherwood Forest. Only just though.

  3. melita smilovic on July 21, 2011 at 11:18 pm

    Hi Bec,
    All my ambitions were based on female role models I saw on TV – cruise director thanks to Julie McCoy from ‘The Love Boat’ (could you really call that ‘a job’?), then rock journalist because of Basia Bonkowski of ‘Rock Around the World’, Suzanne Dowling of ‘Rock Arena’ and Annette Shun Wah of ‘The Noise’. I have achieved neither of those dreams, but it has made me reflect on how important it is that we see women doing cool things on TV – even better, in real life!
    My most recent blog touches on this, although it is about something completely different, which is my frustration with wacky publishing trends, so I invented my own – the micro memoir. The rest is at
    I am glad to have discovered you and look forward to reading your books (especially Find Your Tribe).

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About Bec

Over the past 25 years Rebecca Sparrow has earned a living as a travel writer, a television publicist, a marketing executive, a magazine editor, a TV scriptwriter, a radio producer, a newspaper columnist and as an author.

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