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when i grow up
the struggle between the present and the future
by jeffrey d. walker

When I was a young boy, I remember adults posing the question, "What are you going to be when you grow up?"

This question is asked of hundreds of children; probably hundreds a day. I'm sure it's important to get kids thinking about the future, but I'm not sure most people understand just what they're asking.

"What are you going to be when you grow up?"

That's a tough question. Basically, it's like asking, "After you're all done fooling around and want to get down to business, what is it you plan to do with your life?"

Call me naïve. When I was an adolescent, I assumed that adulthood would solve all my problems. Growing up meant that things would start falling into place. I would finally be the boss! Youth was, to me, the time of preparation. If my memory serves me right, the law compels you to attend school at least until age 16. In fact, many simple entry-level jobs demand of their applicants a high school diploma or the equivalent, at a minimum. Many people, myself included, then go on to pursue some type of higher education. In my house, I never had an option. Fear of my father, coupled with the desire to earn my parents' respect (despite my outward insubordination) drove me into my undergrad education the fall immediately after high school graduation. I don't fault my parents for this; of course, they wanted the best for their only son. And I harbor no resentment for not really being asked if I wanted to go to college or not. I think my time would have wasted had I not gone when I did. Still, having to decide what you want to embark upon for the remainder of your life is a daunting task for any 17- or 18-year old, to say the least.

"What are you going to be when you grow up?"

Since North Carolina State University didn't have a degree in "MTV Rock star," I opted for a degree in Sociology with a concentration in criminal justice. Aspects of the law always interested me, and a couple of internships convinced me that I wanted to do criminal investigations.

So I was thinking, I could be a police investigator when I grow up.

So I worked on it. Four and a half years passed. Very quickly. During that time, I acquired a degree, and also a taste for alcohol. I played in my first two real bands; real in the sense that we would play in front of people and actually receive money for it. I had my first meaningful relationship with a member of the opposite sex. At the conclusion of my degree, I applied to a couple of places. For reasons too lengthy to address here, none of the jobs I sought worked out. I then had to start all over with a new plan.

I was 23, and I still didn't know what I wanted to be when I grew up.

More time passed. My meaningful relationship came to an end. The job I took wasn't satisfying to me, and my band was falling apart. I decided to go to law school. Law school could certainly provide me with a good career. And since things hadn't been working out any longer back home, I decided to try New York State. I couldn't afford to go to school in the Big Apple, so I chose Syracuse. There I would be able to learn New York substantive law, and then go to New York City afterwards.

I'd be a big time attorney in a big time city when I grew up.

Not even a full two years has passed since I came to Syracuse for law school. Over two full semesters remain before I can even be an attorney, and already certain revelations and chains of events have me questioning my decision to live in New York City after I finish. The reasons for these changes are likely more numerous than the reasons I never entered a career in criminal investigations. And while, all this time invested means that I certainly should practice law for some time, I'm not positive that a lawyer is how I'd like to spend the bulk of the life. Which again begs the question:

"What are you going to be when you grow up?"

What am I going to do with my life? I agonize and suffer over this. Of course, your family always subtly encourages you to make something of yourself. For me, the family pressure has always been subtler. My father was younger than me when he started working as an engineer in the 1960's for the same company he still works for today. Also, he was younger than I am now when he married my mother who he is still married to today, more than 30 years later.

Then I look at myself. No career. No wife. I'm not even dating.

"What are you going to be when you grow up?"

I've fallen into deep depressions over this. I felt like a failure for not having anything really nailed down in my life yet. Every map I've set out for myself has been altered in one way or another. When is it supposed to fall into place for me?

After 26 years, however, I think I've finally found the answer.

And the answer is, "I don't know."

I have no idea what I'll be doing after school, and much less 10 years from now. I don't know to whom, or even if, I'll get married. I don't know where I'm going to live. I really have no idea of my future at all.

What I do know is this. I'll find a job somewhere. During college, I worked for over four years as a janitor, and it wasn't so bad. I'm going to play music. In the past, I never really enjoyed band practice unless we were working toward a future show. (What are you going to do with this music when it grows up?) Now, I've started to realize what fun it is just to play with friends. One day, I may settle down with the right woman. In the past, I always tried to seek the right woman, and then jump into a relationship with her as soon as possible. But I don't always have to be in search of "the one." I don't have to feel like I'm screwing up by not being in a committed relationship at this age.

What else I know is this. I have a great family that is nice to go home and see. I have friends who like to do the same things I do. I have a dog that goes nuts every time I walk through the door. The job I have, while not a career, does pay and is a good time. I play in a band that I know will end when school does, and I don't care. What I know is, although my future is uncertain, I thoroughly enjoy my present.

Next time I hear another adult ask a child, "What are you going to be when you grow up?", I think I'll turn to the child and ask, "More importantly, what are you doing right now?"


A practicing attorney and semi-professional musician, Walker writes for his own amusement, for the sake of opinion, to garner a couple of laughs, and to perhaps provoke a question or two, but otherwise, he doesn't think it'll amount to much.

more about jeffrey d. walker


baby bust
offsetting the cost of little bundles
by jeffrey d. walker
topic: general
published: 7.19.10

make a homeless dog your dog
i bet you'll say life is better
by jeffrey d. walker
topic: general
published: 10.21.09


tracey kelley
4.17.01 @ 8:31a

Take it from an old broad - if there's one thing I've learned about life, it's that you're allowed to change your mind a couple of times along the way and still pass go and still collect $200. Sometimes I think our society puts too much emphasis on what occupation you have, rather than the type of person you are. There's a Postie on your forehead when you go to parties, that describes what you do for a living and, therefore, determines whether you're "worth" talking to. I've made a vow to never ask anyone "what do you do?" but rather, "what do you LIKE to do?" I also like to ask "what books have you read lately?" If I get the 'cows at a passing train' stare, THEN I judge them and walk away.

adam kraemer
4.17.01 @ 10:20a

I don't think I've ever seen cows even take notice of a passing train. That's probably not your point.

Regarding the column, I'm sort of in the same situation. Job, but not permanent, no discernable love life to speak of, no idea where I'll be in 5 years. The joys of being 26.

jeffrey walker
4.17.01 @ 2:05p

right there with you, obviously, adam. maybe we should form a support group.

adam kraemer
4.17.01 @ 2:22p

I think we just did.

lee anne ramsey
4.17.01 @ 7:57p

I've discovered recently that no one knows what they want to be when they grow up - including my dad! And usually, after working hard to get to where you think you want to be in life (be it a career choice or relationship) - it is right about then that you realize that you don't really want to be there anymore.

roberto stooks
4.17.01 @ 10:07p

JEFF at 57 years i still ask myself "what do i want to be when i grow up." dont compare yourself to others be yourself. What moves you man! What is you passion? Law school at Syr? what is that about? you want a piece of the Big apple....... try Hamilton or Albany Law, two of the top schools in NY, maybe in the country? If you are as zanty and hot as they/you say go for it! Get off your ass, mon. Life is passing and ain't waiting for you! Get some confidence you're at a very vulnerable age, schizophrenia wise, look out it may catch you, too. Stay focused on the prize! Yeah, you'll find a job, but janitor after 6+years of school? I don't think so...... the wife and the relations come,,,, not to worry.... do what's best for you only you can answer. go for the gold. go for the NOW>>>> Right now. good luck

adam kraemer
4.18.01 @ 10:59a

That's why I'm often amazed at my dad. He graduated high school and decided to get a degree in Architecture from Syracuse University. After 5 years (it was a 5-year program), he was one of only 11 graduates in a class that started at around 80. And the thing is, he loves what he does. Not every aspect, but he honestly enjoys designing buildings. And he's good at it, too. So take heart - sometimes it does work out the way it should.

lawrence sheets
4.19.01 @ 5:59p

Jeff, when I grow up, I want to sell surfboards to Arabs.

roberto stooks
4.21.01 @ 11:33a

Tracey "old broad"? you ain't seen nothin' yet. If you're old, i'm ancient! Folkks, if i may add it's not important where we get, it's about enjoying the being in the moment, enjoy the MOMENT, we may not get another. This aint no practice or dry run it's the real thing.. deal with it .....

jael mchenry
4.24.01 @ 10:15a

It seems, actually, that the idea of "what will you be" has become somewhat outdated. As the economy changes and more educational opportunities open up, it seems like very few people graduate, get a job, stay in it for 45 years, then retire.

The best thing you can do is be smart and be flexible, and doing and being different things over the span of your adult life will, I think, just happen.

travis broughton
4.24.01 @ 3:02p

Yeah, I was hoping to graduate, get a job, stay in it for 4-5 years, then retire... Then the economy sort of gave me a wake-up call :)

drew wright
4.27.01 @ 2:17p

Jeff, since moving my silly ass to Seattle i have learned two things. Same shit, different address!!! The bars suck, I still have no clue what I want to do with my life, and when people go to hear a band there not happy until they hear a rousing rendition of "Gimme Three Steps". And two, I should have brought a few more damn umbrellas with me!!! Signed, Waterlogged in Seattle

jeffrey walker
4.27.01 @ 3:37p

Yeah, I sort of hoped that the yelling for "freebird" would be a thing of the south only. I was wrong...

drew wright
4.27.01 @ 6:12p

Last show, we got the freebird thing. At least nobody requested us to play "blame it on the rain". Now that would suck.

anja bogdanova
6.21.01 @ 3:19p

Next time somebody asks me "what are you gonna do whan you grow up?" I'm just gonna read out that. Some people (like my mom for example) totally go nuts over the fact that I'm 15 and I still don't know what to do with my life. I find that depressing, because when I look at the person asking me, I realise that they are 20 or 30 years older than I am. And they still don't know what they are going to do when they grow up. So what's their problem?

jael mchenry
6.21.01 @ 3:25p

Hey! I didn't realize we'd set a new record. I believe Anja is officially the youngest contributor on Intrepid, beating out our intern by a full two years. Sigbjorn and Lucia are both 17 now, right?

And don't let it bother you when they ask, Anja. You do have to make some decisions (college or no college? where? major?) but none of them will put you on a single, unchangeable path.

adam kraemer
6.21.01 @ 3:59p

Oh, now I feel really bad for giving her crap. Anja, can you forgive me?

Regarding "Freebird," a) I walked into a club this weekend and they were actually playing it between sets, so I yelled "Freebi- oh. Never mind." b) A friend of mine was once kicked out of Underbones in Somerville, MA, for repeatedly yelling "Freebird!" at a reggae band.

jael mchenry
6.21.01 @ 6:46p

If you want to hear Freebird in a totally new way, rent Duets. Andre Braugher's character (not Andre Braugher-- they dubbed the singing voice) does a version that makes the words do something like meaning something.

adam kraemer
6.22.01 @ 9:31a

I'd argue that watching the 20-years-dead Ronnie Van Zandt sing it at the end of "Behind the Music" added a significan meaning to the lyrics as well. "If I leave here tomorrow, would you still remember me?"

mike julianelle
6.22.01 @ 9:47a

Getting sensitive on us, Adam?

And although I have a reminiscent fondness (huh?) for Huey Lewis, I doubt anything short of a trip to hell could make me rent Duets. That "Cruising" song makes me angry.

mike julianelle
6.22.01 @ 9:48a

Although I love Paul Giamatti and tink Braugher's a great actor...at least on TV. Tho he's good in Get on the Bus as well...good, little seen Spike Lee flick.

jael mchenry
6.22.01 @ 10:08a

Giamatti and Braugher are soooo good in this. There are three intersecting stories -- theirs is one, one is Huey Lewis/Gwyneth Paltrow, and one is Maria Bello/Scott Speedman. Maybe you could just watch the Braugher/Giamatti third. Also the DVD is a fascinating study in script vs. finished film, including three filmed but deleted scenes that would have REALLY changed the movie. As an aspiring (passively aspiring) screenwriter it was more than worth the $3.69.

mike julianelle
6.22.01 @ 10:29a

I like that, "passively aspiring." I could fall into the category. And I have heard that a few scenes were cut from the Giamatti/Braugher storyline that brought the movie to darker places. Maybe those are on the DVD? They should have kept those in, who wants a lukewarm failure (I am being quite presumptuous, not having seen it), when you can sack up and try something extreme? Better to give it a shot than settle for mediocrity...but, again, I am assuming much. Maybe I should rent it, and hate it, so we can argue more.

adam kraemer
6.22.01 @ 10:31a

More than worth the $3.69? There's a hell of a recommendation. "It was worth at least $4.12."

jael mchenry
6.22.01 @ 10:39a

The $3.69. That I paid. To rent it. From Video Warehouse. More than worth, not worth more than.

The cut scenes would've made one character darker, but not the whole movie. The director referred to the original script, however, as an "epic of nihilism" which included a crime spree and the mercy killing of the person who spreed, as well as everybody's favorite, incest. So sure, you could go whole-hog and make a dark movie, or you could strip all that out and make a fun road flick, or you could do what I think they managed to do, and strike a balance. However, given that my first novel is out there being rejected right now because it tries to strike that light-dark balance, maybe I'm not best qualified to judge.

mike julianelle
6.22.01 @ 10:43a

Well, good luck with the novel. I think the light-dark thing can work, but in a movie especially it takes a sure hand. And good acting. And writing...I'm trying to think of an example...I'll get back to you. But I'm sure someone will beat me to it...

jael mchenry
6.22.01 @ 10:47a

I'm gonna be really obvious here and go with Grosse Pointe Blank. Comedy, with killing. Cake.

mike julianelle
6.22.01 @ 10:51a

I was going to say that, but wanted to tread some new ground. But I really can't say enough about that movie, but since my posts are often way too long, I'll say nothing.


adam kraemer
6.22.01 @ 11:03a

"A special torture!"

mike julianelle
6.22.01 @ 11:11a

"I don't want to get into a semantic argument over it, i just want the protein!"

"Bing bang boom...POPCORN!"

jael mchenry
6.22.01 @ 12:09p

"'What a piece of work is a man, how noble...' ah, fuck it, let's have a drink and forget the whole thing." [Note: new record just set for most off-topic we've ever gotten, pretty much. You don't mind getting all these e-mails, do you, Walker?]

mike julianelle
6.22.01 @ 12:18p

Oh man I forgot about the email indicator! That's gotta hurt.

Two more things that killed me about that movie. When he goes to his old house, and they play the G'n'R version of "Live and Let Die", and when he enters the convenience store, the song is on Muzak. Plus, that whole scene when he grills the teenage clerk is priceless. "How long have you worked here? Who are you?"

jael mchenry
6.22.01 @ 2:44p

"You can't go home again, Oatman, but I guess you can shop there."

Incidentally, both of the soundtracks are great. Unfortunately, neither includes the LALD Muzak version.

mike julianelle
6.22.01 @ 3:11p

The songs in the movie are great. The Clash...

And I forgot about Oatman, Alan Arkin is hilarious in that movie! "A statement like that isn't designed to make me feel good..."

And just the little touches that drive the depth of the movie home, like when Cusack looks holds the gun and repeats, "This is me breathing."

Or his identity crisis, when he looks in the mirror and repeats what his mother said to him, "You're a handsome devil. What's your name?"

anja bogdanova
6.22.01 @ 3:19p

Oh god... Poor guy who's gonna recieve emails notifying all this stuff. Anyway, Adam, I forgive you. Even though I never got mad at you in the first place. My spelling is weak, and well, that's a fact. Oh well, it will improve... hopefully...

jeffrey walker
6.23.01 @ 4:18a

"What've you been doing with your life?" "Uh.. professional killer." "Good for you, it's a growth industry."

Wow, this was a surprise to see in my e mail after a road trip. I feel special.

jeffrey walker
6.23.01 @ 4:22a

A funny line I enjoy recently is from the recent Stallone movie, "driven." In giving advice to a young race driver, Stallone offered, "At the end of the season, you're either gonna be on top, or you're not. But I guarantee, you'll know what you're made of."

It's just funny to me b/c it seems so useless to me.

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