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The Other Side Of Glamorous Careers

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August 2005
The Other Side Of Glamorous Careers

If there's one question adults love to ask children, it's this: What do you want to be when you grow up? I asked my three-year-old daughter, Lekha, and she said, "A musician." She fell silent for a moment, as though she was contemplating which instrument to play. And then she asked, "Daddy, what do YOU want to be when you grow up?"

My parents asked me this question when I was a child and I never thought I'd hear it again from my daughter. Back then, I wanted to be a pilot or a police officer. I wanted to wear a uniform, cruise around at great speeds, and carry people to captivating destinations, such as the British Virgin Islands or San Quentin State Prison.

My parents had other ideas, of course. They fancied a career in medicine for me and called me "Dr. Tembo." Tembo is a common name in Zambia, where I grew up, sort of like Jones in England, Kim in Korea, and Bubba in Texas. Coming from a poor country, my parents knew the importance of health. That's why they wanted me to be a doctor ? so I could have a healthy bank account.

Though, to her credit, my mom did try to take my interests and talents into account.

Me: "Mom, I really enjoy writing."

Mom: "That's good, son. As a doctor, you can write lots of prescriptions."

Me: "But Mom, I'm also into humor."

Mom: "That's good, son. You can lift your patients' spirits by telling jokes."

Me: "But Mom, I'd also like to perform, perhaps in a theater."

Mom: "That's good, son. You can perform surgery in an operating theater."

Children are often drawn to the glamour or excitement of certain professions, not realizing that there's another side to them. I'll try to explain this to Lekha someday.

Lekha: "Dad, I want to be a model. I can wear nice clothes, tons of make-up, and appear on the cover of every magazine except ?Playgirl.' Then I can get a cooking show on the Food Network and marry a famous author like Salman Rushdie."

Me: "You want to be a model? Okay, but you're really going to miss some things that your friends do, such as eating. And you may have to undergo plastic surgery to have your hips and thighs removed. You may also need breast implants. And you'll have to exercise three times a day, partly to lose weight and partly to strengthen your back so you don't tip over."

Lekha: "Oh, I didn't think about all that. Maybe I'll be an actress instead. I can star in blockbuster movies, earn millions of dollars and make Oprah go gah-gah over me."

Me: "An actress? Okay, but you'd better say goodbye to your privacy. The media will hound you, wanting to know every detail of your life: what food you eat, what books you read, what toilet paper you use. Your fans won't leave you alone either. They'll trouble you for autographs everywhere you go, even in the ladies room."

Lekha: "That sounds great, Dad! Thanks for convincing me. Acting school, here I come."

Whatever my daughter chooses to do, I will try to encourage her, as long as she has talent and is willing to work hard. And as long as she promises to help me find a good career.


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