What did you want to be?

When I was a child, I never really knew what I wanted to be once I was grown up, there was no particular job I wanted, didn’t think too much about it. However, now I look back, there were signs…

When I was a young reader, I loved the ‘Little House on the Prairie’ books by Laura Ingalls Wilder, so much so I’d go to sleep dreaming about building my own log cabin, where I might find water and food in the woods or on the prairie, and how I’d cook and eat it all! The pioneering lifestyle of the 1800s was of course in no way as simplistic or idealised as it is in those marvelous books, but that didn’t matter to little young me – it wasn’t the simplicity of life that appealed. What I found fascinating was exploring a different world new to me, the books’ survival aspects, and how it allowed me to observe the basic needs of humans and what little we need to live. I still find this fascinating, whether I’m reading dystopian YAs, watching ‘The Walking Dead’ on television, or disaster movies on the big screen. I enjoy taking things back to basics and examining our essential nature. And of course I still have my Little House books…

At the same time, my favourite childhood toy was a doll’s miniature bureau. It was so precious to me I never used it. It had tiny a drawer and little notepads, minuscule pencils and a clipboard. I had other doll furniture too, but when my parents had to sell most of it during the 80s recession, I kept the bureau.

When I was a child, I also loved the Jill Murphy ‘Worst Witch’ books. The main character was Mildred Hubble, a hapless pupil at Miss Cackle’s Academy for Witches. I identified with her good intentions, dreamt of being a backstage hero like her and of saving the day where I could, and I loved the idea of magic. I still have good intentions and wish I were magical, though never became a magician. I still have the books though…

I also loved time outside, soaking up the beauty of nature. We didn’t have a garden as such, more a corridor of pavers with bushy borders, but there were flowers among the bushes and I used to make ‘perfume’ by soaking petals in jars of water. I would never become much of a gardener, though I did some work experience in my teens as a ranger and really enjoyed it. I loved studying science at school too, learning how the world worked. Sometimes I’d go into the woods near our home and watch animals or birds, build shelters or tree houses. Who doesn’t love the idea of a tree house? Another of my favourite childhood toys: the ‘Family Tree House’…

But even today I’d much rather sit behind a desk than have a physical job, work in the field or a laboratory. I’m certainly no survivalist, no matter how interested I was and still am in the subject. When it comes to household chores, I’d rather tidy, file and do our tax returns than mend walls or doors, water plants or fix the car. I loved lego as a kid because I love building worlds, not because I like architecture or actually building.

No, my path was always obvious in hindsight. I remember being eight years old and reading books in the dark by torchlight, long after I was supposed to be asleep. I wrote poetry and short stories from a young age, established a writers’ group at school, read English at University thanks to all manner of grants and awards, and spent my summer holidays writing for the local newspaper – for free. I spent a few years working as a solicitor trying to be a hero and save the day, but ultimately it was my desk that lured me into my true vocation: working on books everyday from my home office, conjuring magic and examining our essential nature as humans as I explore new worlds in my fantasy and science fiction stories. I get to be a different kind of hero now, writing heroic but flawed characters reflective of real people who at least try to save the day, as well as themselves. Survival is a big part of that. I guess the writing was on the wall!

Now I have kids of my own, with the first going to high school next year, I look for signs in their interests and activities that might reveal who they’re going to be when they’re older. With technology advancing as it is, it’s likely that their future vocations haven’t been invented yet, so as their mum I try to keep them focused on skill development rather than possible job identification. Still, I look for signs. My son drew me this picture the other day because I saved a turtle at a nearby national park. It was on the road and injured, so I took it down to the water and waited until it swam away in case I needed to take it to the vet. Each of these little characters wear a cape, because all of nature is heroic to our family.

What about you? Were there signs when you were growing up that hint in hindsight at who you would become as an adult? What were your favourite stories and toys, and do you still have any? Go on a journey down memory lane and you might just discover something new yet old about your own character!

Zena Shapter

I write from a castle in a flying city hidden by a thundercloud. #Ditmar Award-winning author. Movie buff. Traveller. Wine lover. Story nerd. Book Creator & Mentor. Founder & leader of the award-winning Northern Beaches Writers' Group / ZF Kingbolt.


  1. Robert Easterbrook

    I wanted to be a scientist. This was triggered by my fascination with nature, the universe, and everything. When Dr Who came on TV, this just re-enforced my feeling about it. As a child, I explored nature and kept bug collections and books about science and nature and telescopes to watch the stars at night. However, life can be a series of hurdles to overcome and hoops to jump through to get to our dream destination; I didn’t get my PhD until later in life. But I never imagined I’d be what I am now: a writer. The earliest favourite book that may have contributed to this was Frances Burnett’s The Secret Garden. In my teens, it was C. S. Lewis’s Sci-fi series: Out of the silent planet; Perelandra; That Hideous Strength. In my 20s, it was Frank Herbert’s Dune saga. Now that I am a ‘scientist’, it doesn’t match my childhood fantasy. Now that I am a writer, it doesn’t match my fascination with stories in childhood. Perhaps because I was detoured many times and a long and winding road to this point.

    • Thanks for stopping by, Robert! I wonder if there’s one more career change to come for you? Something that would bring back the magic of science and combine it with the magic of stories? Of course, ideally, a lottery win would enable a fun relationship with both 😉

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