When I Grow Up . . .

USA Today has a feature that delivers little data mints that occasionally flavor one’s taste for our changing culture.  It’s called, “Snapshots”, and features opinion polls and other samplings.  In the 9/21/10 edition it was “‘Dream Jobs’ that top our wish list.”  Based on a college poll of 1,004 adults last June it provided this result:

Official presidential portrait of Barack Obama...

Image via Wikipedia

  • 32%     Actor/actress
  • 29%     Professional athlete
  • 13%     President of the U.S.
  • 13%     Rock star
  • 13%     Unsure

These things are always suspect in that the people queried are probably not given much time to think about their answer.  But, most people probably wouldn’t spend much time at it even if they were.  But I still find this one interesting.  For most people work fills about half our waking lives, and it is my perception that it usually defines who we are.  Butcher, baker, candlestick maker.  Rich man, poor man, beggar man, thief.  When I read obituaries, which I find interesting, I look for occupation.  Whatever the person’s interpersonal relationships their occupation tells a lot about the sort of life they led.

The USA Today poll results tell me that despite the importance of one’s occupation, choosing it is not seen as something very selectable, and there’s not a single item there that’s realistic for 99% of us.  I see missing from the list: engineering, inventor, artist, house-builder, architect, scientist, doctor, nurse, archeologist, author, accountant,

Family in tall grass

Image by Jackal of all trades via Flickr

soldier, sailor, counselor and teacher.  And then there is the job I see as one of the most potentially challenging and fulfilling of all:  domestic engineer, a.k.a., full-time wife and mother.  To do it right requires knowledge and skills at medicine, nutrition, education, accounting and consumerism.  Of course, a job is what you make it – it can be done poorly or well.

How do we come to do what we do?  I have some experience in counseling young people starting out in college.  Very few have any idea what they want to become.  In most cases the primary motivation seems to the the attraction of money , and that’s a shame.  Beyond providing a minimum base for what behaviorists call “security”, i.e., having enough necessities, there is arguable evidence that money does not buy happiness.

I know a young lady who got her degree in accounting and after working at that for some years decided to be a bee-keeper instead.  Most people in the old days ended up stuck in

whatever activity they fell into, often their parent’s job.  My father worked for a wage his whole life.  He was the head driller on “cable-tool” oil rigs, and a welder too.  But, he worked for the money and he found little fulfillment in the work itself.

I count myself among the most fortunate of men.  I was a naval officer with a full career

Satellite communications is one of many projec...

Satellite Communications, via Wikipedia

and then had a second career as an electrical engineer specializing in aerospace batteries.  In the latter I was fortunate to spend quite a lot of time in design, which I found very fulfilling.  But, I kind of fell into it all.  I applied to the service academies as the only financial path available for a college education and everything else simply ensued.  I am deeply indebted to my country for the opportunities it offered to this poor kid from Kansas.

The eight fastest-growing jobs of 2010, according to CareerCast.com are:

  1. Stockbroker
  2. Advertising Salesperson
  3. Biologist
  4. Geologist
  5. Stenographer/Court Reporter
  6. Actuary
  7. Market Research Analyst
  8. Historian

Now I’m not too sure about that last one.  There can’t be too many historians, can there?  Especially in a down economy, as a historian you might find yourself near the top of the “cut the fat” list.  But maybe so – things are always changing.  And stockbroker?  Really?  But then, this is the list of fastest-growing professions, not necessarily the most interesting.  This reminds me that for some decades now the cream of America’s brainpower has been going to Wall Street.  There’s something very wrong about that, in my humble opinion.

After 73 years on this earth I feel able to give some advice to young people on the subject.  When my grandkids are ready, this is what they’ll hear from me.  Follow your interests.  Try a variety of stuff and discover your talents.  Don’t be afraid of failure – it is the price of experience, and is well worth it.  Money is important, but it shouldn’t be at the top of your list.

And then there’s this, kid.  When people at last read your obituary maybe they’ll say, “Man, what a wonderful life!”.

About Jim Wheeler

U. S. Naval Academy, BS, Engineering, 1959; Naval line officer and submariner, 1959 -1981, Commander, USN; The George Washington U., MSA, Management Eng.; Aerospace Engineer, 1981-1999; Resident Gadfly, 1999 - present. Political affiliation: Democratic.
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8 Responses to When I Grow Up . . .

  1. Jim says:

    Jim one, ya gotta be a little more careful. That “…domestic engineer, a.k.a., full-time wife and mother” stuff is gonna bring out piles of liberal commie do-gooder ERA supporters. They will whine about how men can be domestic engineers, too. Good luck, you really shoulda known better than to invite this kinda grief. – Jim too


    • Jim Wheeler says:

      Jim too,

      You are right, but I don’t care. The culture left me behind (or ahead, depending on your viewpoint) a long time ago. It’s just my contrarian nature. I floated this idea in a letter to the Globe once and was soundly “trounced” (Dave Woods’ word) by a pack of on-line ditto-heads for being a Victorian relic. Bring it on!


  2. Jim says:

    Jim one, maybe you didn’t notice – i was a touch subtle. i am a liberal … whining about the sexism. it’s my job, so i try to keep it light when it’s someone whose head is actually in the same place as my 1950s head. keep up the contrarian proclivities. that makes up for any imagined faults! – jim too


    • Jim Wheeler says:

      Actually, Jim too, I think Mother Nature got it right. Girls have babies and are best equipped to take care of them. They got the equipment and the disposition. I don’t see anything complicated about it. Me Tarzan, you Jane. Works for me. – Jim 11


      • ansonburlingame says:

        To both,

        On a more serious note, good blog with good insights. Go to JHS, wander the halls and/or classrooms and ask the kids “what do you want to do after high school?” In most cases you get a blank stare or a wisecrack.

        IMHO, they don’t have a clue except as you say, “make money”.

        I ask my grandchild (all eleven) that question several times a year when I see them. I also ask the high school grandkids, “where do you want to go to college”? Now note these are all kids in good households, no poverty, lots of “things” available to them. Two are currently juniors in high school as well with two freshmen right behind them.

        NONE of them know the answer, yet, to EITHER question. To me at least to be a junior in HS and not have a clue yet where one wants to at least aspire to go to college, much less what to study, is a little behind the eight ball. I tell the kids that but have yet to “lecture” the parents, my two sons in particulary.

        As with you JIM, whichever, I and my father knew that financial limits would limit my college choices. Thus I explored both Army and Navy and went to USNA. It was financially motivated primarily, though I must admit that the TV show “Men of Annapolis” made the choice seem glamorous as well. Of course there was nothing glamorous about having a $50,000 education shoved up my ass a nickle at a time over a miserable four year period.

        But as with you, it certainly “set my personal sails into the future” for which I too am very grateful.



  3. Jim Wheeler says:


    I find blogging to be a satisfying opportunity for candid discourse in instances like this, as I’m sure you do also. Interesting, your wry comment about the $50,000 education. In my time 6 years earlier we had the same expression, except it was $40,000! (They are a lucky bunch now – don’t even have to use slide rules! My grades would have been way higher except for my errors in reading the #&@* thing, especially in Skinny.)

    Thanks for the feedback.



  4. ansonburlingame says:

    Yes Jim, war is hell. Learning about it and how to participate in one is even HELLER, IMHO.



  5. Pingback: Money and Human Behavior | Still Skeptical After All These Years

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