I want to be a dentist: childhood dreams and why I gave up on mine


I had my girlfriends over for tea yesterday and we had a discussion that has got me thinking – what was my childhood dream and why did I give up on it?

We started talking about how our lives had changed since school – thank God we are all still together after moves, children and marriages – and Sarah mentioned that she had wished she had become a writer rather than a nurse, the 48-year career she retired from last year. I, being a writer (albeit taken up only in the last few years), assured her that no one ever really did what they had wanted as a child, after all, they were just pipe dreams – or were they?

When I was about 4, I remember coming up to my mother and exclaiming, “I want to be a dentist!”. God knows why I wanted to be a dentist of all things, but then again, it could have been because my first check-up was about a week before I had chosen my very important career goal. The kind dental nurse had told me I was an excellent brusher. I could have been her! My mum thought it was fantastic and encouraged me, even displaying my terrible drawings of teeth around the house.

Suddenly, I was 16 and had left school. I began working as a secretary for a small firm run by my aunt. I don’t remember much about this period of my life except that I would often move my chair to a small cupboard and lean in, head resting on palm, and sleep. When someone would ask what I was doing, I’d wake up and quickly tell them I was looking for my pen. Sneaky, if I do say so myself. After that job, still forgetting my dream of becoming a dentist, I worked for my boyfriend’s father who owned the corner shop. I was employed for around 6 years before Tony sadly passed away. This gave Gary and I the push we needed – we really needed a break. We travelled around Europe for a year and it was wonderful. We felt so free and were able to make so many lovely memories.

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On our return, Gary’s mother gifted us Tony’s store – it’s what he wanted. We happily accepted and my town’s General Store became my baby, even after I had my own children. I’d work tirelessly at the shop, from 5am til 5pm, six days a week, for 35 years (on and off between births). We didn’t have much money and lived above the shop, but it really did make me happy.

Every now and then, my dentist dream would slip back into my mind and I’d place toothbrushes at the counter – always concerned about oral health, I was. I would sometimes wonder what I could have done instead, could I have moved to the ‘big smoke’ (Adelaide) and become a dentist? My brother was an accountant and I sometimes felt like my life had not been fulfilled by my small town business. I quickly scratched the thought when I remembered my 20s in Europe and how fortunate I was to have the opportunity – if I had become a dentist, I wouldn’t have been able to travel. Despite that, I still had a fondness for dentists and really envied them (and their incomes!).

Back to the present day and Gary and I sold our shop 10 years ago when we were in our late 50s. We had no need for it any longer, and now spend our days in our Adelaide home. We did get to the ‘big smoke’ but not in the way I’d expected, though I wouldn’t change it for a moment. In a lovely twist, my 17 year-old granddaughter has expressed interest in dentistry…I feel like nowadays our grandkids are able to pursue whatever they would like, but I will never let them feel disappointed if they don’t pursue their childhood dreams. After all, if you can find happiness in whatever you do, you can find fulfilment…even if you’re a garbage collector. We each play an important role in this life and the lives of others. I’d like to think that even if I couldn’t care for patients, I could care dearly for my customers. At least we could have long conversations – no cotton balls stuffed in my customers’ mouths inhibiting their ability to talk!

What was your childhood dream? Were you able to fulfil it? Or did you find a better career path for you?