I love architecture. A beautiful structure—like the iconic Flatiron Building in New York (seen here)— inspires me. It’s not just the aesthetic pleasure of the shape, the materials, the details and its placement, but recognizing how much thinking, planning and executing it took for the original idea to become reality. Unlike other art forms, architecture can’t just be beautiful; it also has to be functional.
When I was in elementary school, I used to draw houses a lot. I loved to experiment with visual forms. But the thing is, I didn’t draw very well and I was not very good in math. So I eventually accepted that becoming an architect was just a pipe dream.
Of course, I was always concentrated on societal issues. I looked around and saw a lot that needed to change. I wanted to have an impact. I wanted to make things better. Architecture can make you feel good and provide a positive structure for human interaction, but it wasn’t going to solve racism, end poverty or expand justice.
I thought about becoming a lawyer—even worked at a law firm and took the law boards after college—but I wanted to keep my mind free. I couldn’t commit to three years of law school and the requirement to subsume my mind under the strictures of law and legal thinking. My desire for freer expression and direct engagement with people led me to journalism and writing, even though I’ve sometimes wished I had the chance to be a trial lawyer or even a judge.
Then again, I’ve always admired park rangers with their knowledge of the natural world and the opportunity to live in places of great wonder. And musicians who can pick up an instrument and produce sounds of great beauty; even more, I’d love to be a musical composer and share my work with a public innately attracted to a moving piece of music.
I could go on. But I want to hear from you—and for us all to hear from each other. What job or profession do you wish you had? Don't feel limited by your skills or presumed aptitude. This is your chance to imagine that work, that life, without boundaries. As always, please do be respectful in your comments.
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*Photo: The Flatiron Building in New York City. Photo by Tony Shi Photography via Getty Images.
I just retired from medicine as a nurse practitioner. I loved that work. But my next life I want to be a rock star, like Grace Slick or Annie Lennox. I have horrible stage fright in this life, although I love telling stories to folks as long as I feel it is a small group. So I don’t want to be afraid of large groups. Oh. I should be able to sing as well 🤭
I wish I'd known as a high school student that 'textile designer' was a career. That's what I would have done.
Like you, I admire architecture all over the world. As a kid, I would use house plans to make up stories. The best house plan was one where I could sneak from my bedroom to the kitchen without being seen by the people in the living room. I wanted to be a doctor, but in 1961 the school counselor told me I should become a secretary. I became an accountant because my dad thought I should get bookkeeping training in case I needed it after getting married. Eventually, I won a three-year scholarship to law school because of my LSAT score. I'm now retired, and have gone back to writing stories. My first mystery novel is finished and is out on query.
I lucked out and decided to be a dancer when I was 4. I did that and became a dance professor (being a teacher was great). Now I’m retired and teach yoga on the side. I really like what I had the ability and freedom to do. No regrets.
After I graduated in Elementary Education, I wanted to go on and become a psychiatrist. We were newly married and couldn’t afford it. I asked my dad for financial help. He could easily afford it but his advice was to “just be a teacher, women aren’t psychiatrists.” I started teaching, and 32 years later, I’m retired. I loved my career, and miss so many things about it. But to this day, I wonder…what if…
I wanted to be a carpenter and get into construction. My Jesuit school did not offer and carpentry or metal work or electrical work classes. My freshman year a law passed that required the Public high schools allow the private school kids to take classes in the Public high school not offered in the private school. So for my sophomore year I signed up for wood shop, metal shop at the Public school. I got pulled out of class and taken to a meeting room with three Jesuit priests and my Mom. The Jesuits told my Mom and me that my future was in Academics and I would not use my intellectual gifts as a carpenter. I told the Jesuits that Christ was a carpenter. Unfortunately, that argument did not win the day. I did not get to take carpentry at the Public Highschool. Now MDJD Retired Navy Captain lousy carpenter. 😢
I would love to be an archeologist working with ancient Mediterranean trade routes and cultures. Since childhood, I have been drawn to the history of the ancient world in that region. I read a great deal instead and just finished a magnificent book called The Rise of Athens. Meanwhile, I continue working as a psychotherapist.
I’m a retired RN. I always want to be a librarian. Now I wish I’d been an historian or a journalist. Or an artist or a carpenter.
My college dean told me to become a professional writer, so I became an investment banker. 45 years on, I wish I’d listened to him.
I’m looking back… I’m 77 so at the end of my working life. I am teaching Psychology part time at 2 colleges lol when I look back I have to admit my different careers have been what I enjoyed doing. Except banking …banking was not a great fit lol. My husband and I had a hypnosis and counseling practice… I loved that. We did workshops through U of L Medical and Dental programs to teach doctors and dentists how to use hypnosis. We went to the pan am games at the end of the 1970’s to do sports hypnosis with the Puerto Rican basketball team…sports psychology. Then I started working in crisis intervention with child protective services…and later also with juvenile justice. I became one of the state trainers… and Director for 8 counties. I loved what I did because each family, each situation was different… I learned something new with each family. I saw many horrible situations and hopefully helped people through them. I’m retired from that position and teaching as an adjunct.
I guess, if I could have done something different, I would have liked to travel the world. I loved visiting Israel….Masada and the Dead Sea were amazing! So maybe crisis intervention world wide, instead of in just one state 😊
I love the picture Steven has chosen for this essay! And that’s hard for an Angeleno to say! NYC is a beautiful city!
Upon graduation from college, I was privileged to serve in our nation’s 🇺🇸 armed forces for 21 years and nine months.
If we pressed rewind, I would do it again.
I am now retired. Which, as it turns out, is not only a decision, it’s an ever continuing process, transition and full time job! One I am proud of. Wouldn’t have it any other way…unless the Dead Kennedys need a new drummer.
I wish more people in our country were able to retire (earlier), enjoy it - and not be framed by the negative stigmas that unfortunately accompany the status of “retired”.
My key projects currently are #slowtravel, mastering a minimalist lifestyle, Substack writing, loving my wife GiGi and our 3 fur babies.
The best advice I have read to date comes from George Eliot (Mary Ann Evans). Who says the following:
“It is never too late to be what you might have been.”
I also think the same applies to our country 🇺🇸. Even on our most painful days.
In kindergarten, I fell in love with finger painting and can still visualize the first time playing with paint. I've been painting ever since then and it has become my life long passion and profession. I started focusing on painting pet portraits 15 yrs ago, in which I hope to convey the individuality and inner spirit of each of my subjects. The portrait brings such joy to my clients and in turn, gives me such pleasure that no other occupation could compare. I'm fortunate.
I wanted to write fiction and deep meaningful essays, but I wanted to eat as well, so I happily slid into journalism. Now retired, I'm writing my first historical fiction. It takes me right into 1852 and the Oregon trail and fills my soul. This is what I was meant to do. It's never too late.
I am currently a teacher in my 40th year. I’m going 60% this year but I think I really would’ve enjoyed being an architect or a landscape architect. For now I just putz in my yard and renovate our home.
Since I was about 10 years old, I had wanted to be an airline pilot (who didn't?). So, when I started college, I figured the best major for me was Engineering. I quickly found out that Engineering wasn't the field for me. But my Freshman Calculus Professor, Donald Dykes, turned me on to Mathematics. He was a great teacher, and I began thinking of majoring in Math. I graduated with a B.S in Applied Math, with no clue as to what I was going to do with it. So, I went to grad school. Part of my Graduate Assistantship required me to teach Calculus "Recitation" (homework help) sessions twice a week. I'm kind of an introvert, and I had never even tutored anyone in any subject. But when I stepped in front of a classroom for the first time, it felt as natural as breathing. I have now taught college Math for 42 years (getting ready to start my 43rd year in the classroom). I have the best "job" in the world. I can't imagine doing anything else. And I owe it all to my Freshman Calculus Prof, Dr. Donald Dykes.
I wanted to be a pilot. I first flew in 1964 on Eastern Airlines a few months after they got their first 727 N8104EA. My Eyes weren't good enough to be a pilot and Lazik at the time was just starting and being done with exacto-knife blades (basically). My ophthalmologist at the time said it would be best to wait and see if it actually worked and for how long. Interesting story there too. Judge Sirica used the same doctor and we sat down while waiting for an exam for probably half an hour talking about watergate.
I also thought I'd like to be a lawyer. In 11th grade, they had the hearings for the Kennedy assassination. I needed extra credit and a friend who was very much into politics got us a gig working with Mark Lane a Georgetown lawyer that was working with congress to prove a conspiracy. We worked for him basically doing whatever and were able to borrow a copy of the Zapruder film to show in class in 1976. Got an A that semester. That friend of mine went on after being unsuccessful at getting into politics to found a political poling company (Mason Dixon Political Research). I went on to tech school and worked for Eastern Airlines as a mechanic for just shy of 10 years. I transferred to Washington DC in 1980 and the first plane I was assigned was an overnight check on N8104EA. Then for another small FBO for an additional 7. From there started a career in Computers and retired in July of 2021.
Architect for me too. I can draw but the math part 🤦♀️
Second, I’d love to be an interpreter. I love languages and other cultures so much.
Listening to stories of sea voyages from the captains and marine engineers in my family I wanted to be a ships captain. No question. My dad who retired from the sea the year I was born missed that life. Though he would tell us we could be anything I wanted when I grew up if we were willing to study and/or “worked hard” he took me aside and explained to me solemnly that women as captains were not a good idea. For a pragmatist his explanation I remember was that there was too much superstition among sailors. They believed women on board ships were ‘bad luck’. And sailors wouldn’t sign in. Reflecting back I can imbue this with logic and human nature, but then I felt crushed.
I want Danielle Lams job. She tracks people down to give them prize money for PCH. WHAT FUN!
Oceanographer or paleobotanist.
I have a degree in architecture, but ran an historical preservation construction company instead. I loved what I did, but at near 70 I still keep wondering how I can leave a mark and improve other peoples lives. The answer for most, is volunteering, but I believe most would agree, there aren't many organizations you can walk into, volunteer, and be given anything meaningful beyond stuffing envelopes. I would love to hear how people felt they made a difference outside of their careers.
I am 83 and have had several careers - education, business, and business admin in education. Sputnik was launched the year before I started college and much was limited to women then. When I retired I turned to natural history, from history of the universe to history of the planet. Just as well science and engineering had been discouraged as the first paper on plate tectonics was published 3 years and 2 babies after I graduated. Most recently I have focused on converting much of my yard to native pollinator plants and now host 100s of butterflies and solitary bees (in north central TX). Ask me again in a dozen years and I’ll still be exploring.
After a brief few months after college, I landed my dream job. Through sheer dumb luck, and persistently hounding the interviewer, I was hired on at NASA/JSC. I've never seriously considered doing anything else. Now we are headed back to the Moon, and leaving is unthinkable.
I wanted to be a criminal defense attorney from 5th grade through my second year of college before dropping out and moving to Las Vegas with a couple of friends. After working in the casino industry through my 20s, I went back to college and graduated at age 36. After that, 15 years in an urban public high school classroom where I learned far more than the students. During that time I was able to complete a masters in Biology, moonlight teaching in a community college, and now I am finally full-time teaching biology in college. So, I am a teaching professor finally. No research - just commitment to young adults’ futures and teaching.
With all that, my dream job would have been a backcountry Park Ranger in a national park like Yellowstone, Yosemite, Great Smoky Mountains, etc.
I wish someone in my high school years had steered me toward library science. The private school I went to for college didn’t have a degree in it so I got a teaching degree and my MRS (as it was called!) I never taught and I’ve been divorced for nearly 30 years. I wish I’d been a librarian opening children’s eyes and minds like mine were with books!
Lol... I have really enjoyed this newsletter! You gave us a little piece of yourself and opened up the floor for others to do the same... and they did! 😃 It reminds me of the Haribo Goldbears commercial with executive in a meeting room talking in kid voices about what they like most about the gummy bears.
Going from ‘what I want to be when I grow up’ to ‘what I wish I would’ve been when I grew up’... amazing how we hold onto those secret wishes - just waiting for someone to ask.
Thank You for asking Steve 🙂 and Thank You for sharing 🙃👍🏻
I would like to be a rider at the Spanish Riding School in Vienna.
I’ve always wished I’d become some sort of engineer. I’ve always been interested in gravity systems, the water and sewer systems of huge cities. Once I learned that it was our ability to have clean water and to remove our waste that made it possible to live with any degree of density I’ve been fascinated. I also just love to find beautiful curbs and drain covers.
Home remodeling and interior design, focusing on efficiency. Most houses have so much wasted space. We could live well on a smaller footprint.
I’m a retired preschool teacher and parent educator. I loved my career. But if I could have done anything I’d have loved to be an opera diva! The music, the drama, the costumes, the world travel--
I believe in living a renaissance life: try on as many hats as you'd like. I've worked in my dad's garage doing oil changes and car washes, baled hay and tended livestock, waitressed, bartended, and cooked in truck stops and family restaurants. I recently retired after forty years as a chiropractor - the last ten doing house calls from Tucson to just short of the border. Studying different languages has allowed me to speak badly in Spanish and Welsh as well as English. I have always loved reading, especially history, so I write historical fiction and nonfiction, learning how to initially write in HTML code for the first ebooks, then learning formatting for current publication submission requirements. Never stop learning new things, traveling to new places, and meeting new people. Life is too short to say, "I wish I had..."
Veterinarian…instead I ended up in Medical School later in life and became a general surgeon
Oh. You sound like me. I wanted to be an architect but was not skilled at drawing. I love history and geography but I also love music so I studied both. I ended up teaching history and singing opera!! I still sing opera when I’m not trying to save some beautiful old houses.
I'm a retired air traffic controller which lined up perfectly with my innate skills but I've always had a strong artistic, intuitive, visual tendency so I'd say landscape architect, interior or fashion design, all of which are avocations/hobbies now. Post retirement I have owned/operated a small green retail fashion business for 20+ years and I am in the process of closing that down and am mentoring two young newcomers with supplies and support. I'm ready for Act 3.
As a woman coming of age in the early 70s I'm extremely lucky to have been able to switch gears to jump on opportunity when it presented, to dodge the trap of the life/soul sucking (for me at least) pink ghetto jobs and to be retired from any career that wasn't nursing, or a secretary or teacher which wouldn't have suited my temperament very well and I certainly feel that with gratitude every day.
My interests were wide-ranging from art, to history, journalism, photography, and art history. The results of a career aptitude test did not help narrow my options, either, essentially the results said I could be anything I wanted to be. While in college I worked as a student assistant in the library for four years (in the reference/government documents department) and a full-time staff member for a year after graduation. The reference librarians there urged me to go to library school. I did so and over 38 years, until I retired in 2017, used my various positions in ways that allowed me to use all of my interests. I served as newsletter editor for some of the libraries and for a professional library association. I created many library displays on all kinds of topics (science fiction literature, the Star Trek 40th anniversary, Constitution Day, Banned Books Week, and others).
My positions and duties allowed me to be of service to the library patrons in a myriad of ways, from finding obscure books and articles needed to complete dissertation research and class assignments, to teaching bibliographical literacy and legal research, and answering so many reference questions. I cataloged materials from books to electronic resources to government publications and tried to enhance cataloging records to make them more useful for patrons to find the materials we had access to. I always had a particular interest in government publication and information and tried to highlight the federal and state depository collections I worked with in two different libraries.
However, I still wonder what might have been if I had chosen to be an artist, a photographer, a journalist, or even joined the Air Force ROTC in college after the recruiting major told me I had "aced the test." (They were recruiting female math majors and I was one at the time.) Working in libraries, though, allowed me to work most of those skills into my career. I would not change anything and I can still do some of those other things now in retirement.
I was lucky. Although I never became a film director, film editor, or actor, I got to teach high school kids every obscure interest area I had. And I lived long enough to know I’d have quickly become bored doing anything else.
In another time and space: I would like to be Ginger Rogers' body double.
As a teenager, I swore I’d never be a teacher… but after several careers, that’s what I ended up doing. Retired from that now - COVID made it untenable - and now I am focusing on my dream of being a writer and creator or art.
If I had it to do over again, I would have pursued a career in archeology and history. It’s where I started, and ultimately abandoned it for the corporate world. I’ve never lost my love for the career I abandoned and am now an “interested amateur.” Ancient Egypt has always intrigued me ever since I was a child of 10.
When I was in college -female, students were encouraged to be teachers or nurses, and yet photography and photo journalism are the two things that I’ve done in my life in addition to teaching that really have my passion.
Actually I wanted to be an aeronautical engineer but my desire changed with the Vietnam war and LSD, so changed my major. When I graduated two years later from college in an open studies I had to name my own major/degree. I named it “Life and the ecology of man”, that way I’m always working on my major! I call myself an environut working to keep the water on the hillsides longer.
I would like to have been a global travel book author.
Becoming an architect / landscape architect, that was my dream. Instead, I attended a very small liberal arts college and got wound up trying to figure out the meaning of life.
Graduated in 1971 from The School of the Art Institue of Chicago.. sculpture. Had to raise my children so constantly reinvented myself but always "hands on" it's the only way my brain seems to function, 3 dimensionally. Architect was what I wanted to be when I was 12 but of course I easily folded when I was told "women aren't architects"! Right now, my garden is my solace, reward, pleasure and a Landscape Architect would have been thrilling, plus it still has that word "architect" in it.
My love of all music makes me wish that I would have studied it more intensely. Played clarinet in high school mostly because my dad had played the instrument. A different instrument may have encouraged me to stay in the music field. I listen all the time, pop, classical, jazz, rock, blues and opera via my blue tooth hearing aids. I would love to conduct an orchestra.
Loving my current job right now, directing communications for a VA healthcare system. Hoping to reach as many fellow Vets as possible to get them the care they’ve earned. As a patient there myself, I’m grateful for providers that understand the unique needs of our community and a socialized (gasp) medical system that takes the time to really care for us instead of grinding us through 15 minute time blocks and charging for every bandaid in order to profit from our suffering.
Maybe when I “retire” again I’ll look to do my first love somewhere - announcing sports on the radio or as a public address announcer. I got to do that in college and a bit while in the Army. It’s a fun job but there’s no pay or job security unless you’re at the very top. I’d like to be able to do it without worrying about having to pay the bills.
I wanted to be a writer - fiction - but I had no ideas for a book. I wanted to be a ballet dancer or a gymnast. I could feel myself sailing through the air, but I couldn’t commit myself to the leap or letting go of a bar and I wasn’t all that coordinated. Instead I was a teacher for several years, a bookkeeper at a bank for 2 years, and then a systems analyst for the rest of my career. It turned out for the best. I’m good with technical matters and details. I’m also good at appreciating good writing, ballet, gymnastics, and more.
When I was in college in the late 60s I wanted to change schools and study in the Humanities, but my parents wouldn't pay for me to stay in college unless I continued in the Home Economics School. I changed my major to social work and was able to take some humanities courses in that major. If I had been able to go into Humanities I think I might have done family history research and written books in that area of study. I had an English teacher who encouraged me to write, but backed off when she realized I wasn't a Humanities major. She seemed to be afraid that she would offend someone in the Home Ec school if she encouraged me to change majors. (Humanities had rather recently been elevated to an actual school rather than courses intended to just supplement students' knowledge of how to write, etc., at the Land Grant college I attended. And in the upheaval of 60s Vietnam era unrest among young people I think there was distrust of the tendency of Humanities as fostering attitudes that were too 'radical'! My parents certainly thought that.)
When I was in college I was an accounting major and a had my minor in philosophy. I considered changing my major or doing a double with both, but my Philosophy professor talked me out of it saying I had the capacity to do the original work needed for Grad school but I also had to be able to eat. Sorry I listened to him. I’d love study philosophy again. I read on my own but its not the same.
I would love to be a cognitive scientist--psychology, neurology--and do research, especially with children. Maybe even psycholinguistics.