“When you were 13, what did you want to be when you grew up?”
I actually did not have a very good time with this question when I was 13.
At primary school in Malaysia, from around Year 3 (aged 9) until Year 6 (aged 12) we did an annual exercise, where the teacher would ask us to list our top three “ambitions” (in Malay, “cita-cita”) – What Do You Want to Be When You Grow Up. I can’t remember why they bothered to make us do this.
Anyway, every year, I wrote:
What I really wanted to be was a cartoonist. I loved drawing.
I wrote “vet” because I liked our pet dogs.
I wrote “teacher” because I had to write three things and I couldn’t think of anything else to write…
I remember most of my classmates wrote things like “1. doctor 2. lawyer 3. teacher” or “1. nurse 2. teacher 3. housewife”. A few had interesting ambitions like “architect” or “badminton player”. I never wanted to be a doctor, lawyer, nurse, teacher, housewife or architect. And I didn’t care for sport so being badminton player was out.
Then when I turned 13 and went to high school, the teacher asked us the do the same exercise that year. This year she just wanted to know our main ambition. No need for a list of three things.
I remember feeling relieved that I didn’t have to pick two other things to make up the list, and happily wrote: “Cartoonist” and my name on the sheet of paper.
What did the teacher do next?
She collected the sheets of paper from the class, and started reading out what people had written down. After a few “doctors” and “teachers” she started rummaging through and pulled mine out of the pile.
“Okay… Constance…” She said.
“Constance… You want to be a… CARTOONIST?!”
Everyone looked at me.
She did not laugh but she did the next worst thing. She said:
“You want to be like Lat do you?” [Lat being Malaysia’s top and most well-known cartoonist.]
“Well, a GIRL cannot become a cartoonist. Not only that, you cannot make a LIVING from CARTOONS.
“So just concentrate on school and stop having such silly ambitions.”
Can you imagine??
The next year, I wrote “teacher”.