Childhood Career Aspirations, and Why They Didn’t Work Out


Average salary: $70,490

Reasons why: Like most small-town, Midwesterners, I grew up with a love for animals. In my house alone we always had anywhere from one to five pets from the time I was four years old, not to mention the bevy of farm animals I encountered during my weekly horseback riding lessons or visits to a family farm in rural Wisconsin. What better, I thought, than to be surrounded by animals all the time, helping them live happy and healthy lives? And so, as I did with all serious decisions at the time, I declared my intentions in my first-grade yearbook.

Why it didn’t work out: Did you guys know that to be a veterinarian you have to, like, know science and stuff? As a word and art person, my brain is just not built for the required knowledge of biochemistry and pathology. But the true kicker is the awful reality that vets face every day: dying animals. I can’t imagine telling a family that there’s no other option than for their childhood pet to be put to sleep and then being the one to pull that trigger (it is a trigger, right? That’s how they do it?). I’m too emotionally unstable. No one wants a blubbering fool with cat earrings to deliver them that news. Veterinarians are true heroes.


Average salary: $46,012*

Reasons why: After seeing Indiana Jones for the first time who among us didn’t want his job? I had the physical stunts down (or so I thought) and won a blue ribbon for my third-grade science fair project on dinosaur fossils, so it seemed like a pretty natural fit.

Why it didn’t work out: The thing about Indiana Jones is that he grossly misrepresents the job of an archaeologist. George Lucas should have made three (yes, three, the fourth is dead to me) movies showing Harrison Ford tediously sifting through miles of dusty land for days just trying to find anything worthwhile. The few minutes we see of Indy teaching a college class are the most realistic scenes of the profession. BORING. Plus, eight-year-old self, the study of dinosaurs is paleontology not archaeology, ya dummy.


Average salary: $53,061*

Reasons why: Once again pop culture steered me wrong with this one. I assumed professional detectives were the stuff of Harriet the Spy, Nancy Drew, Veronica Mars, and Olivia Benson. A strong, independent woman who could fit into small spaces to learn secrets and always had a witty response up her sleeve. I knew there would be danger, but I laughed in the face of danger (having obviously faced much danger and crime in my town, population: 5,000). Not to mention, I am great at solving puzzles. What is a murder investigation but one giant puzzle just waiting for a sassy broad to solve it?

Why it didn’t work out: Turns out that a detective is a kind of cop. There aren’t very many puzzles, and the kind of witty banter seen in books, movies, and TV would probably be considered very unprofessional behavior for someone working on a serious murder case. And speaking of murder cases, remember earlier when I said I couldn’t deal with dying animals? Then why on earth would I think myself capable of dealing with dead humans on a regular basis? As for the physical qualifications, forget about it. If a perp took off down an alley I’d make it all of three feet before getting short of breath and urging my partner to finish him off. Having a badge would be really cool though!

Ballet dancer

Average salary: $30,593*

Reasons why: Surprisingly, this was my most realistic career goal yet. From the ages of eight to 18 I was part of a semi-professional ballet company, taking classes or attending rehearsals at least five days a week. It was something I really loved to do: the thrill of being on stage, the joy of being with my friends, the pretty costumes, and the overwhelmingly wonderful feeling of being in shape (something I took advantage of in my youth). At the age of 15 I decided, hey, I could do this forever, and started auditioning for companies across the country. In my mind I would have my pick of the most prestigious places in the world and would drop out of high school to become a professional dancer. I’d be set for life!

Why it didn’t work out: Even if things had turned out as I had imagined, I most certainly wouldn’t have been set for life. Dancers make very little money for the amount of time required and often have second and third jobs. Plus, their careers often end after 10 years or so because of the physical toll ballet takes on one’s body. The reason all those fancy ballet poses look so amazing is because they are actually amazing; no one’s body should be able to move that way, it’s nearly physically impossible. But of course, in my attempt to get to the point where I would even realize that, there were obstacles. I had a curvy body, not ideal in the ballet world, and as I went on auditions I felt extremely put off by the way people judge you right away on your shape. I didn’t feel love from other dancers elsewhere that I did from the girls in my company (who are still some of my closest friends to this day); instead, there was a lot of jealousy and competitiveness. And, when it came down to it, I just wasn’t the best. In a world where every little girl wants to be a ballerina, you have to be the best to make it. It’s a very hard life, and I have no regrets for getting out when I did.

Fashion designer

Average salary: $59,159*

Reasons why: When I started researching colleges and taking real steps toward real careers, I explored every creative option I could. I knew that what I would end up doing wouldn’t involve numbers or science but rather imagination and colors! One of my favorite pastimes became sketching fancy ladies from fashion magazines (a collection of which still hang in my parents’ bathroom—thanks, Mom and Dad!), and that’s when it hit me: I could turn these sketches into real things! I could become the next Coco Chanel or Marc Jacobs with my bright shiny collection strolling down runways across the world! This was my destiny!

Why it didn’t work out: My junior year of high school, after reaching this epiphany, I took a sewing class, and it did not go well. In fact it would be safe to say that it went horribly. A star pillow I sewed for my boyfriend at the time ended up looking like a mangled octopus and on my final, a bright yellow shirt, I sewed the sleeve on crooked and inside out. I walked out of the class with a C and broken dreams. But it was for the best. I’ve barely updated my wardrobe since then and would certainly not be considered a fashion-forward human. These days I get all my clothes from my sisters’ closets or Target, and that’s just fine with me.

Television writer

Average salary: $96,000-$157,000 (at least, according to this article.)

Reasons why: My junior year of college, after I was well on my way to receiving a journalism degree (finally! I decided on a career! Or had I . . . ), I took screenwriting classes as electives to fill in my schedule. One screenwriting class led to a television writing class which led to a Mad Men script analysis class and a web series class. By my senior year of college, while I was editor of the student newspaper, my academic schedule was filled entirely with television classes. Of course! I thought to myself, Television is your one true love! This is what you need to do! I wrote a spec for Community, an original web series, and an original pilot, all of which I’m still very proud of, and I was completely ready to take the next step.

Why it didn’t work out: It could still work out someday I suppose, but it’s a very hard industry to break into. I don’t live in L.A., don’t really have connections, and I’m not actively trying to make that my career at the moment, which is the most important step toward making it. After graduating college I got a job at a magazine right away and have been making a living in the journalism biz ever since, something I have truly loved. But maybe one day I’ll gather my scripts, get my act together, and check this dream job off my list.


* Salary data from


Brianna Wellen is an editor at the Chicago Reader and a writer many other places who earns a salary between a ballet dancer and an archaeologist. She tweets about aspirational careers @briannawellen.



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