I recently had a conversation with a college student working in my office for the summer. I asked her what her major was and she sheepishly answered that she didn't know. I jokingly replied "that's OK, I still don't know what I want to be when I grow up." The truth is, I do know what I want to be when I grow up but the job of being F. Scott Fitzgerald has already been filled. Writing the Great American Novel notwithstanding, I admit to a certain envy of those people who know what course they want their lives to take and are able to steer a straight line to it.
I have a friend named Matt (I'm lying, that's not his real name) who is a biologist (a herpetologist to be exact - herpetology, as I'm sure you know, is the study of reptiles and amphibians). He's a professor at a major college here in the Northeast, has traveled around the world, written extensively and even appeared on Animal Planet. He has literally realized his life's ambition. From the time I met him when we were both in Jr. High School he knew this is what he wanted to do. In 7th grade shop, one of the assignments was to create our own business card. This was back in the day, kids. We're talking old school - setting up blocks of type in a printing press etc. Instead of a simple card bearing his name, address and phone number like the rest of us, Matt's card read "Matt Alquist - Biologist".
Unlike Matt I never really had a clear idea of what I wanted to be growing up; I came about it through trial and error. Like most kids I was influenced by the world around me. As a pre-adolescent I loved the old Universal Monster Movies (which I watched every Saturday night on Creature Features). One of my favorite monsters was The Mummy. Naturally, I wanted to be an Archaeologist. Not that I wanted to run into the re-animated corpses of ancient Egyptians, mind you. It just seemed really exciting traipsing all over the desert, discovering long forgotten tombs and entering lost worlds. This was at least a decade before anyone had ever heard of Indiana Jones so I guess I was ahead of the curve. I read all sorts of books on Ancient Egypt (because of course, to 10 year old Michael if you're going to be an archaeologist, Egypt is the place to do it). In preparation for my career as the next Howard Carter, I even wrapped up my GI Joes in masking tape and buried them in my backyard creating my own mini Tomb of Kings right there on suburban Long Island.
I'm not sure when, but Archaeology as a future vocation gave way to Astronomy. This probably coincided with my switch from Monster Movies to 1950's Science Fiction. I had dreams of friendly aliens contacting me to impart the wisdom of their highly advanced civilization. Being an astronomer also seemed more practical; all I had to do was look up in the sky - something I could do with very little effort (as opposed to schlepping half way around the world with a shovel and pith helmet).