When I grow up…


…I want to be a ________.

It’s a familiar question from early childhood, and it has fairly standard answers.  A doctor, a policeman, a lawyer, a fireman, an astronaut, a mom or dad.

Having recently put a child in college, it’s amazing how many majors there are today and all the possibilities for finding meaningful, fulfilling work.  It’s no surprise to anyone who has lived a little bit, however, that the number of potential occupations far exceeds the number of college majors.  The 2000 Alphabetical Index of Industries and Occupations, a byproduct of the Census and other governmental databases, lists about 21,000 industries and 31,000 occupation titles.  (Interestingly, the number of industries is the same as the survey in 1990, but 1,000 new occupation titles were added.  I’d imagine an even split between advanced technology careers and shades of government welfare).

I know a good number of young adults who have recently graduated college.  With a college degree comes an expectation that there will be a job related to their chosen field of study.  In the current economy, perhaps they’re less choosy, but even in better times, experience says that a majority of graduates find careers largely unrelated to their college studies.  In any case, regardless of whether one is working on a factory floor or on Madison Avenue, the majority of training is provided by the employer, on the job.

I’ve been fortunate in my career to have been exposed to a very wide variety of businesses – manufacturers, wholesalers, retailers, farmers, contractors, service industries… Some jobs I’ve seen hold some appeal, but most have not.  I would like to say that this provides some weight to an argument that I’m in the career that I should be in, but it mostly points to 1) having options and 2) choosing well at key points in life.  Neither is guaranteed by the virtue of being born – in the USA or anywhere else.

Over time, the diversity of witnessing who we are and what we do leads to thoughtful debates on wealth vs. poverty, providence vs. chance, intelligence vs. ignorance, passion vs. resignation, wisdom vs. foolishness, and comfort vs. desperation, among others.  These aren’t judgmental debates about the intrinsic value of one person vs. another or some societal value of one job vs. another.  Everything needs to get done, and people are needed to all those things.  But that’s at a macro level.

Individually, it’s a reflection of how the accumulated forks in the road of one’s life lead to where we’ve been, where we are, and where we’re going.  These thoughts evolve from observations of people doing all sorts of jobs which result in the recurring question, “How in the world did that person come to find a career doing that?”

Note: This video may be removed as it has been at some other site.  TheOLE.Org is the author of the video.


  1. That video was awesome! I got dizzy just watching the climb. So at the end of the day, do these guys climb down or use a parachute?


  2. I would respectfully consider you add luck to your 1) having options and 2) choosing well at key points. Having been subjected to various forces from letting my wife have a better career and following to reduction in force, I am at where I am and am quite happy about it. I would consider luck as certainly (at times) I knew too little to choose well!

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