“What do you want to be when you grow up?”

That’s a question that we’ve all been asked at some point.  Usually starting as early as toddler-hood when replies often include fireman, policeman, princess, fairy (and anything else in dressing-up boxes or favourite books).  My youngest wanted to be a dragon.  As he was only three, I didn’t burst his bubble.

I was slightly more perturbed the other morning when (now a five year old) he announced, unprompted at breakfast that “when I grow up I want to be a criminal”.  Great.  Just great.  How on earth did he get to that?  He’s the chief joker in the family so will do and say anything for a laugh.  The only reasonable answer I could think of was “drink your milk” (whilst texting a friend in advance of a playdate to warn of his intentions).

It got me thinking back to when I was about nine and I wanted to be a nun.  It confused my parents as we weren’t practicing Catholics.  We weren’t even Catholic.  I liked the outfit (more specifically the veil) and that was that.  My brother wanted to be a lawyer (having been impressed by Perry Mason’s leather-clad swivel-chair on the TV show).  Many moons later, he made it – although I’m not sure how much reality and fiction have in common.

As for me, I went through a number of ideas, being inspired by whatever I was learning at school.  I remember wanting to walk across Greenland after hearing about its dangerous and inaccessible interior.  The bigger the challenge, the better.  It was exciting to dream, unimpeded by practicalities.  The idea of my kids being inspired by others’ heroism, ingenuity, creativity or sporting achievements is an appealing antidote to the current emphasis on appearances and desire for 15 minutes of fame.

Whilst Alexander Fleming, Thomas Edison, Mary Anning and Florence Nightingale have less superficial allure than the glitz of current celebrity-lifestyles, their stories are more fascinating.  You may have seen my blog about the timeline we have on our wall – it’s been a good way of setting these people and their amazing deeds in context.  Truth-be-told, I’m struggling to identify current-day heroes.  Maybe that’s because we only appreciate the value of people in hindsight.

But it’s not all about external markers of success.  Even if they aren’t responsible for the greatest invention of their era, I hope they find fulfillment by pursuing their dreams.  Ultimately Joseph Campbell’s words are all that matters: “the privilege of a lifetime is being who you are”.

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