Kieron wants to be a train driver. He dreams about trains. He reads about trains. He draws pictures of trains. He is sure this is what he will do. Lucy, aged seven, wants to be a zookeeper. She loves animals. She wants to look after them. She has drawn a picture of her dream.
Georgia is ambitious. She'll be a singer, she says. No matter that right now she is still in primary school, reading and counting and writing when the teacher says so. X Factor here she comes. She demonstrates in felt tip. The rest of her class do the same.
Farmer, artist, footballer, her classmates decide. They draw themselves in the future, entertaining audiences, saving lives, nurturing minds. Teacher, fireman, bookshop owner, they say; that's what we'll be.
Meanwhile, on the office floor and in the sales room, willing past the hours between clocking on and knocking off, things have turned grey. Dreams have been crushed to dust. As the recession rolls on, scared workers with bills to pay and mortgages on their minds reason: "You're lucky to have a job at all … This job is better than nothing …There's no point aiming for the stars."
And so they don't.
At a time when it is hard for adults to summon the freedom to dream, children are setting an example. As our young artists from Walbottle Village primary school, Newcastle upon Tyne, show, they dream freely. Redundancy is not in their vocabulary. In place, they possess a healthy dose of imagination.
"My dream job is to be a famios persin because I wont to be rich and buy a castle," writes Emily, six. "I would like to be a vet because I have seven cats. I like animals and want to be one," says Bethany, five. "I like football because it is fun and I like meduls and trorfeas," writes Corey, six.
Adults don't stick to their dreams, says headteacher, Maria Tarn: "They are tainted by life experiences. I think we need to keep that ambition going."
Research released last week by UKTV's Watch channel supports this view. Some 69% of 3,000 parents surveyed admitted they had failed to follow their dream career path. But as they support their children in reaching for their (very different) dream careers, one generation on, parents said they rated job satisfaction and happiness as more than twice as important as wealth.
The most popular professions among five- and six-year-olds are teacher, doctor and vet, research from The Children's Mutual shows.
Next in the top 10 are footballer, fireman and actor followed by policeman, dancer and hairdresser. Showing reality need be no barrier to ambition, TV/cartoon character also wins a place.
Dreams, though, can be expensive to pursue. To train to get one of the top three "dream jobs" – teacher, doctor or vet – would cost between £75,000 and £130,000 in 2021, says Children's Mutual, its conclusions based on today's National Union of Students figures adjusted for inflation.
But perhaps an even greater cost – not necessarily measured in monetary terms – could be attached to the reverse; not pursuing dreams.
Consider the nightmare. Kieron, abandoning all enthusiasm for a job with travel, adventure and people, takes a job in an office – temporarily – to pay the bills. He stays for 25 years and gets used to the salary, occasionally wondering what happened.
Dr Rob Yeung, corporate psychologist at consulting firm Talentspace and presenter of BBC's How To Get Your Dream Job says that if people do not have what he calls "fizz" in a job, then it is a "terrible waste of a life". Fizz is enthusiasm for your work, being absorbed, concentrating intently and not noticing an hour pass, rather than watching the clock.
"Every job has its downsides," says Yeung. "No job will be 100% enjoyable." To find out if you are too far from your ideal, you should do an audit of your week, he suggests. If you enjoy only 10% of the time you're at work, it is not a good sign.
For some workers who realise they are nowhere near their dream, knowing what it looks like is the problem. Childhood dreams are not necessarily an indicator of what you will want to do as an adult, says Yeung (otherwise there would be far more air hostesses).
It is useful, though, to look back at your life from teenager onwards and consider what you enjoy doing, he says. He cites the example of someone who loves fixing things, or someone who is great at chatting to people and socialising. He would ask them how much of this their job includes. If what they enjoy doing does not form any aspect of their work, it might be time for change.
Posing such challenging questions in a time of economic uncertainty may lack appeal. Evidence suggests the majority of workers shy away from such soul-searching, and decide instead that no dream in particular will do.
We are a "nation of career drifters", analysis by workplace consultancy CHA shows. More than 60% of workers meander into a job instead of fulfilling their original career aspirations.
But the financial crisis has altered roles – for the worse – for many workers. And a large percentage who would not previously have done so are questioning how well suited their jobs are to them.
Whereas talk two years or even 12 months ago might have been of career progression, workers are now widely complaining of career regression, never mind just standing still.
Research published last month by international charity VSO shows that more than 10 million workers in Britain feel they are "stagnating" professionally. One fifth of workers said they were considering a previously unplanned change in professional direction. Half said there were limited opportunities to get promoted in their current job and almost half said the recession had reduced their chances of developing their career. Perhaps the time is exactly right to pinpoint and leap for dreams.
"You can look at the recession as an opportunity or a calamity," says Yeung. "People will use anything from their marriage to the recession as justification for staying in an unfulfilling job." Others will respond positively and use it as a catalyst for change.
But that's still easier said than done, says Catherine Roan, managing director of Careershifters.org. "There is always a reason to stay." Instead of lying in bed worrying about a career that is wrong, she says, set aside some time to devote to moving towards career change. Talk to people, read useful material. "The best thing to do is take action. You can't think your way through it."
This doesn't mean giving up your job without anything to go to, Roan stresses. But while in your current job there are three steps you can take. First, figure out what is important and what would make you happy. Second, decide if your dream job is really for you – it might not be in reality. Network in that industry, find out what the role actually involves. Then, if you're sure, make the change.
"I've never met anyone who regrets it ever and they all just wish they'd had the confidence to do it sooner, but that's part of the journey," Roan says.
Dreams are hard to grasp at the best of times. But what's the harm in trying? What did you dream of doing? What do you want to be?
Maybe you've got a piece of paper handy; a "To Do" list, a bill, a P45 even. Why not turn it over and draw on it, before the dream fades.
+ By Emma Mudan Harrigan Campbell
Over the course of eight years, I have switched career paths constantly. My first idea was to become a singer, then a dancer, and then an actor—maybe even all three at once. I liked how people would occasionally compliment me on my voice when I sang, and I figured why stop there?
I wanted to become someone great, someone who changed the world; mainly through theatrics. Then I switched to a more political standpoint and thought about being a lawyer. My mother said I would make a good lawyer since I manage to avoid questions by not directly answering them.
Today, I aspire to be a writer, any sort of writer—an author, a journalist, a blogger, anything. This was the doing of my third grade teacher, who read a short story I wrote out loud and said, “If this girl doesn’t become a writer, I don’t know who will.” The underlying connection between all of these jobs is that someone else told me I could be them. That I would be “good” at singing, or a “talented” writer. But, the idea of choosing something based on what other people say doesn’t appeal to me. Yes, I want to be a writer, but is it for the right reason?
“Do what you love, love what you do.” I found this quote while trying to break my writer’s block for an English essay. It may be cheesy and overused, but I think there is more importance to it than just a saying on a hand towel. When most people read this, the first thing they think of is their career. Why is that? I think it is because we automatically correlate the verbs “do” and “be” with a job. When someone asks, “What do you want to be?” People tend to say their future or current career choice. I have never heard someone respond with an emotion or a nontangible idea.
Pondering this, I found my answer for what I want to be when I grow up. Instead of choosing a potential job that will change time and time again, I need a long-term plan. In the course of one lifetime, I want to be happy. Realizing this, the question, “What do you want to be?” might not provide the correct platform for my answer, “I want to be happy.” Maybe the appropriate question for this answer is, “How do you want to exist?” When I “grow up” I want to exist happily. Although it sounds simple, I can imagine it probably won’t be as easy to carry out. There will be highs and, there will be lows. I plan to take on the lows with a smile as my sword, and with the knowledge that I will make it out alive. Maybe I will become a writer, or maybe I won’t. Whatever I choose career wise, I know it will be because I am happy doing it.
About the Writer: Emma is 13 years old and lives in Annapolis.