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What do you want to be when you grow up? Plan B.

When I was little, I wanted to be a veterinarian. In grades one, two and three I told everyone I was going to be a veterinarian (except for a very short period of time when I contemplated becoming a nun – I went to catholic school.) In fact, all through elementary and junior high, being a vet was my goal. In high school I was determined to be a vet. If anyone suggested having a back-up plan I’d say “nope, going to be a vet.” I hung out at vet clinics, stuck my hand up place that should not be mentioned and stepped in, picked up and got covered in more poop than a mother of triplets all suffering from the flu. Watching the vet pull a dead fetus from a cow just about had me adding to the mess on the floor, but there was no way any of this could make me reconsider my career path. Now, I admit I’m a wee bit stubborn (*insert husband laughing until he cries*), but it wasn’t until my second year of university when I was faced with the reality that I just didn’t get inorganic chemistry, that I had to consider the possibility that yep, maybe I wouldn’t meant to be a vet. That saying if you work hard enough, you can achieve anything did not apply to me and this class was from the bowels of hell. Begging, praying, even studying couldn’t get me a mark high enough to get into vet school. And there I was, already done a year and a half of university, and having absolutely no clue what Plan B was. I was in a panic. How could I not have a plan B? I’m good at plans! I planned to be a vet my whole life. How could I be 19 and not know? Well, here’s the reality - I’m wayyyyy past 19 now and I’m still not sure what I want to be when I grow up.

My son, who is going into 5th grade, was recently asked what he wants to be when he grows up. The answer hasn’t changed since he was three. He wants to be a veterinarian. Yep, that nut didn’t fall far from the momma tree. And here I am, remembering how lost and overwhelmed I felt when my plan A failed. I asked my son what he wanted to be if he couldn’t be a vet. “Mom,” he said, “I’m going to be a vet.” So what do I, a career coach, say to my son? “Well if you work hard enough, and study hard enough, you can do it.” Sigh!

I think parents in Japan might have the right idea. In the Japanese culture, it is most often the parents, not the 17 year old high-school graduate, that pick what post-secondary institute the child will go to and they choose their child’s career path. Why leave such an all-important decision to someone that just started shaving a few years ago and still can’t work the laundry machine? I don’t think my boys, who I am trying to raise to be strong, independent, laundry washing men, would buy into that. So what can I and other parents do to help their kids come up with a plan A, plan B and even maybe plan G?

Well, encourage their dreams, but help them think outside the small box they have drawn for themselves. Have them explore alternative options. In high school, they should do some activates that will help direct them along the way but it usually isn’t enough. At home, explore sites such as (Alberta Learning Information Services) or together. Even taking personality test such as Myers-Briggs or Humanmetrics will provide insight and create an opportunity to start talking about possible career options. Research things such as average income, working conditions, and the job market for each possible career. Consider things like length of time in school/training and the cost together. (Just think if I did get into vet school, I’d still be paying off student loans.)

For individuals still in school, speak with a guidance counsellor. They are a great source of information. For those of us out of school but still not sure what we want to be when we grow up, consider booking an appointment with a career coach. In Strathmore and area, McBride Career Group provides these services at no cost to any resident of Alberta; it doesn’t matter if you are in school, out of school or too cool for school.

As for me I just recently went through the entire process of temperament and personality testing and consistently came out with 4 careers to consider; plans A through D, if you will. Plan A - a corporate trainer; plan B - a communications professional; plan C a writer and Plan D – a funeral director. 3 out of 4 were dead on, the last one… well, maybe it would be dead-on too (in more ways than one). If I ever grow up, maybe I will give the funeral director career some thought.

Gaylene Smith has been a waitress, tree planter, canoeing instructor, cemetery caretaker, fund development officer, communications officer, marketing coordinator, and currently is a career coach, and first aid instructor on the side. She still isn’t sure what she wants to be when she grows up other than healthy, wealthy and wise, although right now she is willing to take just one of the three. Gaylene can be reached by phone at 403-934-4305 or


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