I’m by no means a pessimist. I actually like to consider myself an optimist. But my optimism is of course laced with a sense of realism. I reflect back on my childhood optimism and often wish I could return to the mindset of believing that really anything is possible. I am a believer that when people work hard and put their mind to something they really want, it is possible to get it. But, as we are all figuring out, life doesn’t always lend itself to hard work and determination. I wonder if we can ever shake off these realisations about the world, and ever consider life again from the mind of our childlike selves, with optimism, that although did not match up to realism, did create an excitement for life which we simply cannot achieve in the same way anymore.
My first dreams as a child were not actually to be something crazy, they were in fact to be someone. For my first dress-up day at school, at the age of 4 years old, I dressed up as J’Lo. I didn’t want to be a singer or to be famous, I simply just wanted to be J’Lo. It was later that I moved onto Beyoncé, and although I still admire Beyoncé and think she is incredibly talented, I no longer want to be her. I find it completely bizarre that there was ever a time in my life that I wanted to literally be other people, that when I grew up, my dream was to fulfil the life of somebody else.
I now look back and see why these women were such empowering figures in my life. As a child, I would never have realised that it was the fact they were mixed race women. When there were so few role models who I could identify with, it is unsurprising that it was rather I wanted to be them than to be like them. It was frankly out of the question to want to be like them when there were so few spaces in the media for mixed race, or black women. My own example boils down to race, but I think a lot of us wanted to be people when we we were younger for various different reasons. It is insightful to unpick these and notice how a childhood dream can be far more than a silly dream, but rather be indicative of why our thoughts and views are as they are now.
Over the next decade, I went through the process of switching my dream job several times. For a while, I wanted to be a gymnast. I started gymnastic lessons, realised I didn’t even like gymnastics and stopped. I think it’s such a strange thing that as children we work in such a backward process. We notice someone else’s success or happiness (an Olympian who won gold for beam in gymnastics, for example), and we immediately want it. We disregard that the whole dream job is dependent on us doing gymnastics. I had a bad case of this ‘aspiring for a job you actually have no interest in’ syndrome in wanting to be an actress. With a profession like acting or singing, it is easy to fall into the trap of wanting to be famous over wanting the actual job, especially as a child. For years and years, I wanted to be an actress. I did a little bit of acting in school shows, but generally I never acted. And yet… it was my dream job.
My dream job to be an actress is even more insightful to analyse than the others. Recently, I’ve started performing some comedy. An opportunity to get involved in comedy has never come my way in life before, and is generally never something I have aspired to do. But perhaps there is a little part of my dream to be an actress which wasn’t totally bizarre and misrepresentative of my true ambitions and passions, something which I have been able to resurrect on the comedy scene. I don’t want to be an actress, but this dream job has at least some connection to my life now. Tracing back through your childhood dream jobs is striking, even the ones which appeared most random seem to make some sort of sense right now. This is why it must be easy to take the wrong career path, and fall into the trap of a temporary dream job.
There is always going to be the anxiety of settling on the wrong ‘dream job’ a little too early, not letting ourselves go through all the ridiculous childhood dreams first. At a time when we are all jumping at the opportunity to attend networking drinks or careers fairs, I think it is always important to stop and ask ourselves whether our ambitions are truly our ambitions. We can look back on our younger self, who wanted to be a gymnast forgetting they had to do gymnastics, and see them as ridiculous. I wonder how different we are now. It seems to me that, although the traps we fall into are less dramatic, we cannot always recognise when we are aspiring for the ideal of a career, or the career itself.