When I Grow Up

Funny how certain people can get so obsessive about what they enjoy, but in such different ways.

When I was a kid — and I’m guessing most kids are like this — I went through phases of What I Want To Be When I Grow Up. I remember that being a standard getting-to-know-you question from the grown-ups, and I always had an answer. Well, almost always.

I don’t remember when I first joined ballet at age four, but Mom tells me that she gave me a choice between ballet and gymnastics lessons, and I chose ballet. I took lessons at Laura Penton’s Academy of Classical Ballet (which has long since changed names and merged with another studio); I attended ballet classes for four years, and tap for one year. During that time, I was convinced that I was going to be a ballerina when I grew up, despite the fact that I was obviously going to be too big overall — both slightly overweight and tall for my age. Neither of these things were quite so obvious to me at the time as obstacles, though, and Mom didn’t tell me until long afterward about how Ms. Penton had told her that she already knew I wouldn’t get far in the field of dance.

When I was eight years old, we moved from Ohio to Florida. We really didn’t have the money for me to take ballet lessons there, and I remember being horribly upset… for a few months. Once I started school, though, my focus shifted from ballet to science. We were within a couple hours’ drive of the Kennedy Space Center, and both the local news and my teachers at school seemed to make a big deal of shuttle launches and NASA in general. Over the next year or two, I went on a field trip to Cape Canaveral, watched the Challenger explode on live television, and learned how to program in BASIC. When the Guidance Counselor at school asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I told her I wanted to be a computer programmer for NASA. And she told me that I shouldn’t limit myself like that.

At the time, I thought that was the most bizarre response to my highest aspiration. I understand now.

Three years later, between fifth and sixth grade, we moved back to Ohio. Sixth grade was such an awkward and horrible experience that I don’t even remember having any aspirations beyond just wanting people to stop thinking I was such a dork. Same in seventh and eighth grade, although my love for music was really starting to blossom. (Not to mention an unhealthy adolescent obsession with my 40-year-old music teacher, but we won’t get into that.)

By high school, I wasn’t sure which direction I wanted to go, but I was willing to try them all. I started off taking electives in Computer Science (programming in BASIC again, as I recall), and art, and choir, and I got A’s in them all. And I loved them all. But I loved choir the most. By the summer after Freshman year, I was taking voice lessons for cheap from my choir director, in the junior high music room — I still remember the empty echo of the slightly out-of-tune upright piano in that empty school, and the smell of floor wax and air conditioning, and having to memorize the syllables “dah-meh-ni-po-tu-la-beh” to sing in vocal exercises. That summer was key in helping me shed some of my awkwardness and “find” myself, although I didn’t realize that until just now.

Of course, I couldn’t drive yet, so my aunt would take me to lessons and pick me up afterward. One day, in the car, she and I were having a conversation (as we often did) about Important Things In General, and she told me that if I’d found something I loved to do, there was no reason I couldn’t make a career out of it. My immediate thought was to become a high school choir director, and that was what I wanted to be for the next couple of years. After I joined band my Junior year, I changed my mind and wanted to be either a high school band director or a college professor of music.

That didn’t work out so well.

When I got to college, I discovered that I had been a Big Fish In A Little Pond back at Buckeye High. I also discovered the internet (still in its infancy, by today’s standards) and boys and independence of a sort. So, I spent one year as a Music Ed major, one semester at home on Academic Suspension, and then I was back to playing the academic field again. My first semester back, I sampled several fields: Visual Communications, Art, Computer Science (sounding familiar?), and finally settled on VCT, since it sort of combined art and design with a little HTML thrown in for good measure.

So, what did I want to be when I grew up? I still wasn’t sure. A web designer? Multimedia designer? Something along those lines. But I still liked to dabble in programming.

As it happens, I almost got what I wanted — assuming that I’m officially on a “career path” now. After a five-year detour in the mind-numbing field of banking operations, I’m finally a Data Warehouse Engineer. I get to design reports that pull data from databases, and tweak them with code and logic, and make them look aesthetically pleasing.

Is this what I wanted to be when I grew up? Not precisely, but I’m OK with that.