The other day, I asked my 7-year-old son what he wants to be when he grows up.
His answer was fairly predictable, as little boys go. "I want to be a fireman," he said.
"Why?" I asked.
"I want to help people, and if they're hurt, then I can help them," he replied.
I was proud of that answer while also realizing that his idea of a "dream job" may change as he grows older. After all, when I was a boy, I can remember thinking I wanted to be a firefighter, too. Or a cowboy. Or Darth Vader.
But over time, I realized that what I really wanted to be was a writer, and I was lucky enough to have the chance to follow that dream.
I thought back on those childhood ambitions recently when I received the results of a survey by professional networking company LinkedIn.
LinkedIn surveyed more than 8,000 people around the world for its "Dream Jobs" survey, asking about their most common childhood career aspirations and whether they eventually landed their dream jobs.
According to the survey, the top childhood dream jobs for U.S. men were: professional or Olympic athlete (8.2 percent); airplane or helicopter pilot (6.8 percent); scientist (6.8 percent); lawyer (5.9 percent); and astronoaut (5 percent).
Come to think of it, I probably wanted to be an astronaut, too. Maybe that fed into the Darth Vader thing.
The top childhood dream jobs for U.S. women, according to LinkedIn, were: teacher (11.4 percent); veterinarian (9 percent); writer, journalist or novelist (8.1 percent); doctor, nurse or emergency medical technician (7.1 percent); and singer (7.1 percent).
A quick survey of the (many) women in the Kratz household verified the accuracy of those statistics. My 10-year-old daughter said she wants to be a third-grade teacher, because it's "fun to teach little kids."
In a similar response, my 12-year-old daughter said she wants to be a pediatrician because she "likes little kids." In fact, she covered two results of the survey with her answer.
"Before, I wanted to be a veterinarian, but then I realized you'd have to do some stuff that would be kind of hard to do to animals, like surgery," my second-oldest daughter said. "I don't want to do surgery on animals. I want to help little kids."
My oldest daughter, who is about to turn 15, is the one who doesn't fit the LinkedIn results. When she was younger, she wanted to be president of the United States. Now, she wants to be a structural engineer.
"I've kind of always had an interest in architecture, and structural engineering goes along with architecture, but it also goes along with another of my interests, which is geology," she said.
Yes, she is wise beyond her years. (And I still think she'd make an excellent president someday.)
There's no way to know what my little ones will end up doing when they're older, but I do like the way they're thinking now, focusing on helping others and pursuing their interests.
And, according to LinkedIn, there's a one-in-three chance that they will achieve their dreams. The survey found that about 30 percent of respondents said they either currently have their childhood dream job or work in a career related to that dream job. Of those who don't work in their childhood dream job, most said that's because they became interested in a different career path as they aged.
“The dream jobs we aspire to as children are a window into our passions and talents,” said Nicole Williams, LinkedIn’s career expert, in a press release about the survey. “Identifying and understanding those passions are key to improving our performance and enjoyment of the jobs we currently do, even if they aren't specific to the careers we dreamed of as kids.”
Some would say my childhood interest in Darth Vader translates well into my current role in middle management. Hmmm. Either way, I'm glad I didn't end up overseeing the construction of a Death Star. I just can't see how that would be good for my quest for work/life balance.
The LinkedIn survey also showed that more than 70 percent of respondents said the most important characteristic of a dream job is “taking pleasure in your work.” That was followed by “helping others” at 8 percent and “a high salary” at just over 6 percent.
And that brings me to a person who always takes pleasure in her work: my wife. She has worked as a professional journalist and is an outstanding writer. When I asked her about her childhood dreams, she said a writer was all she ever wanted to be.
"I always liked to write stories, and I loved to read," she said. "People would tell me that I was good at it, so I thought that was a dream that was within my reach."
However, as my wife pointed out, just because a person is no longer a child doesn't mean she has to change her dream.
"I still haven't become the writer I'm hoping to be," she said.
In other words, there's still hope for her and others who decide they haven't really "grown up" yet. It's never too late to chase those dreams.