There is now technology available that can accurately predict how tall a child will become as an adult and even what it will look like. Tests of intelligence, the ability to delay gratification, and cooperativeness in kindergarten have all been proposed as ways of determining how children will succeed as adults.
When you see a group of children playing, it’s not difficult to imagine what jobs they might hold as adults. The famous psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud once told the story of a boy in his village who, as a prank, cut off the tails of people’s dogs. The villagers were justifiably outraged and horrified and everyone predicted that the boy would grow up to be a notorious murderer. I’m not sure if he became a murderer, but the boy did grow up to become a famous surgeon.
Contemporary psychological studies have associated various personality traits with corresponding occupational interests later in life. For example, adolescents who are open to new experiences tend to enter occupations requiring artistic and investigative skills. Extraverts, however, seek out jobs involving entrepreneurial and social abilities.
Adults often ask children, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” Children frequently choose an occupation held by a parent or some other role model. Although the order changes a bit each year by gender and grade level, most young children say they want to be a doctor, teacher, veterinarian, athlete, musician, scientist, artist, police officer or movie star.
Psychologists believe that future careers are often influenced by family dynamics. These may include designated family roles, such as entertaining a parent or solving family conflicts. The family may consider some occupations as being too insignificant or too presumptuous. A man from the Middle East once told me that in his family the boys had to either become physicians or engineers, and engineers had higher status.
Some children may just gravitate toward the first job that presents itself. Various family events, especially traumas may also be influential. Joel Paris from McGill University found that medical students were more likely to have experienced illness in their families during childhood than law students, while law students were more likely to have experienced legal problems in their families. One famous psychologist said that he entered the field because as a child his family was a “veritable museum of psychopathology” (mine, too).
Some people can point to specific childhood events that were influential in their later career choices. Journalist Lori Tharps says, ”I blame/credit the book “Harriet the Spy” for giving me the idea to walk around with a secret notebook and write down everything I deemed interesting, bizarre, or potentially criminal. I thought being a spy sounded really cool, but really what I was doing was learning how to be a reporter.”
CNN recently asked a group of successful women, to describe their childhood dream jobs. Several mention positive childhood experiences, which they linked to a possible career. For example, Hayley Barna, the CEO of Birchbox, said that she went through “a long marine biologist phase” after going on a life-changing snorkeling expedition when she was 7.
LinkedIn conducted a survey of the childhood dream jobs of more than 8,000 professionals. They found that over 30% currently held their desired childhood job or a closely related one.
Another survey conducted by OnePoll found one-third of adults said that they role-played the job they pursued as an adult when they were children. Over 32% reported that the toys they played with as a child influenced their occupational choice.
According to blogger Tracey Clayton, “…early toy preferences may provide a window into [children’s] future job occupations and roles in society.” She believes that parents should supply their children with “toys that support their passions.”
Evidently this was precisely the case with Hermann Rorschach, the Swiss psychiatrist who devised the famous Rorschach Inkblot Test. According to the Encyclopedia Britannica his parents provided him with a game that involved making pictures from inkblots, called Klecksography. Hermann was so good at this game that his childhood friends gave him the nickname “Kleck,” which means “inkblot” in German.
All of this brings me to how I came to write a newspaper column. As a young child I often played with a set of rubber stamps and ink pad that my mother used to make signs for bake sales and other such activities — she belonged to a lot of clubs. I used the stamps to make my own signs and posters. I made a lot of wanted posters with my older brother’s picture drawn on them. Later I discovered an on old Royal typewriter in the basement and soon found that that I could produce a reasonable facsimile of a newspaper, using the rubber stamps for headlines and the typewriter for the columns of print.
Later I received a toy printing press for Christmas — my second best Christmas present ever. (The first was a Mattel Shootin’ Shell Snub Nose .38 and shoulder holster. I should have become a police officer). Soon I was regularly publishing a household newspaper, which included some scathing editorials berating my older brother for breaking my bicycle and later stealing all of the dimes from my Red Goose Golden Egg Bank.
In the sixth grade I had a teacher named Mr. Benway, and I began anonymously publishing a weekly scandal sheet I called the Benway Bugle. It got me a lot of attention and notoriety from girls, until too many kids complained about how they were portrayed in it.
In high school my newspaper career continued, and I was the sports reporter and later co-editor of the school newspaper. I remember writing a very heartfelt editorial regarding the racial conflicts that once closed down the school. The school principal told me that it was very well-written and though-provoking, although a bit too controversial, as he confiscated all of the copies and ordered the custodian to take them around to the back of school and burn them.
So this is how I was destined to write a column, as Freud said, “There are no accidents.”