“What do you want to be when you grow up?” Do you remember being asked that question when you were a kid? Perhaps you even had the misfortune of having to write a homework essay on that very topic. Do you remember what you said then?
I seem to recall, at least in Malaysia, the choice was fairly straightforward. There were only a few career paths that our parents had tried to indoctrinate us towards since an early age. The number one most popular choice of parents was for their children to be a doctor. Being an engineer was a close second, with lawyer third and so forth. Children being children, we had our own set of priorities. Movie Star was our number one choice.
As we grow up, it is said that our priorities change as our world view changes. I seem to recall that my very first venture into the realm of “what I want to be when I grew up” was quite simply to be rich! I wanted to be a millionaire. It did not matter how. The details were not important as long as I was filthy rich.
If I sound shallow here, please remember that I was only a small kid at that time. Of course, as I grew older and more matured, I refined what I wanted to be. Yes, I grew to realise that wealth wasn’t everything. That was when I decided that I would be a rich and famous movie star. After all, what is wealth if you weren’t famous and had people watching you flaunt your gazillions. Still later, I would further modify this to be a rich and famous movie star but one who was still humble and remembered his old friends from the old neighborhood. Kind of like how J-Lo is still Jenny from the block………you know(sarcasm). Actually, I was more influenced by the wisdom of one Linus van Pelt (Peanuts by C. Schultz) who once declared that he wanted to be a rich and famous but humble country doctor.
I guess sometime after that, I was brainwashed by teachers who kept insisting we learn little sayings like “money can’t buy happiness.” I was impressed with the efficiency of their brainwashing techniques. That started me on the thought that what I really wanted to be was a psychologist and play around with people’s minds. I remember telling my brother that I wanted to go around in a white coat, give people electric shocks and inject them with medication. That’s when he explained that you need to be a psychiatrist to treat patients with electric shock and drugs. When I found out that psychiatrists had to complete medicine first before they take up psychiatry, I lost interest. It seemed like too much hard work and study.
Around the time when most of my friends were slowly changing their targets in life from being cowboys, firemen, astronauts or soldiers to doctors, engineers and bankers, I too decided to drop psychology and psychiatry like a hot potato. I was still interested in tinkering with the mind but decided that being a scientist was a lot quicker way to get to play around with the brain. My new goal was to be a rich and famous, Nobel Prize winning but humble scientist.
My parents were alarmed and recruited my extended family and some friends to kidnap me and do an intervention to remove these deviant thoughts from my young mind. At the end of the treatment, I was reciting the mantra….”I want to be a doctor”.
So off I went and in due time studied and applied for medical school. Despite good results, I failed to gain entry in the first round. I was given a second interview at some Universities and one offered to consider me for the next year intake. I mulled it over but I decided to take up an offer to study Biochemistry instead. I was very glad I made that decision. As soon as I did, I realised that medicine was never what I wanted.
Biochemistry, however, still opened the possibility of pursuing my long cherished dream of playing around with brains. Mwahahahaha! Of course in the presence of polite company, I would explain it as an interest to understand the inner workings of the most complex organ, the brain.
Reality intervened and I realised that back home in Malaysia, there was zero research in the field of neurobiology or neurochemistry. It was more practical for me to study oleochemistry due to Malaysia’s love affair with oil palm, our golden crop. In the end, I settled on Microbiology as there was still a lot of diseases ravaging the country. By now, I had given up on the idea of being rich. Being famous in microbiology is also not all that great cause about the only way you become famous is to discover a new disease and have it named after you. From then on all who suffer the disease and the medical students who have to study the disease for their exams will curse your name as in “The doctor told me that I have that @#*%#@! disease.”
My career path took another twist when I went into environmental conservation. That started as a temporary post but has now taken up most of my working life. That being the case, I guess I really don’t know what else the future holds. However, I am hoping it will come full circle and make me rich and famous. Yeah, a rich and famous but humble blogger.