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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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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