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What did you want to be when you grew up?

Doctor, movie star, musician, secret agent—

We all had that one dream job we wanted to land.

Whether it was fighting crime, winning an Olympic gold medal, or directing the next cult movie, our younger selves were determined to fulfill their childhood dreams.

But—how many of us succeeded?

According to new research, more than 6 in 10 Americans did not fulfill their childhood dreams.

Read on to discover some more interesting findings from this study.

Unfulfilled Promises of Yesteryear

In a survey taken by 2,000 Americans, respondents were asked to examine their childhood dream jobs and their evolution to adulthood. The survey found that more than 6 in 10 Americans failed to reach their childhood dream jobs.

67% of respondents stated they were not able to achieve their childhood vision of their dream jobs. 58% of these respondents still wish they could achieve their dream jobs.

While some respondents say their childhood dreams evolved over time, the most common free-text response was that they “became more realistic”.

For instance, one respondent who wanted to be a doctor said: “I ended up being a legal assistant. Not even close to being a doctor but I have done a lot of medical malpractice.

For others, the childhood job, when done in practice, wasn’t the dream they expected: “My childhood dream job was to be a veterinarian. I got a job working for a veterinarian for a year and have several experiences that taught me that I couldn’t mentally handle the harder parts of the job.”

Another honest respondent said the following: “I wanted to be a lawyer so I got to know more about the justice system. I realized how dirty and corrupt the justice system and most of its attorneys are and I didn’t want any part of it.”

One surprising finding from the survey is that 82% of people who did not fulfill their childhood dreams are not pursuing them at all in their adulthood. 

dream jobs

When did reality kick in for those who did not achieve their childhood dreams?

15 years old—right around the time where they started getting their first jobs ever. The most popular jobs at that time for men were mowing lawns (15%) and babysitting for women (25%).

Five years later, Americans reported starting their first full-time “adult” job—food service (15%) and retail (13%) topping the list.

What Did You Want to Be When You Grew Up?

So, what did American children want to be when they grew up?

The top answer: a doctor. 6 in 10 wanted to don the lab coat and stethoscope. Other top answers: teacher, veterinarian, musician, and a movie star. Here are the full results:

dream jobs

Interestingly, both men and women shared a high interest in becoming doctors when they grew up. Both sexes had a doctor as their second choice of dream job (15% men, 17% female).

For male respondents, the top childhood dream job was becoming a professional athlete (17%). Here are the other top choices:

TOP 10 Childhood Dream Jobs for American Men
1. Professional athlete
2. Doctor
3. Musician
4. Police officer
5. Business owner
6. Superhero
7. Teacher
8. Movie star
9. Architect
10. Firefighter

For female respondents, the top childhood dream job was becoming a teacher (22%). Here are the other top choices:

TOP 10 Childhood Dream Jobs for American Women
1. Teacher
2. Doctor
3. Veterinarian
4. Movie star
5. Writer
6. Artist
7. Fashion designer
8. Musician
9. Business owner
10. Chef

What Went Wrong and a Way Forward

Sure, not everyone can be a doctor or professional athlete.

But what went wrong in the process?

The survey gave respondents a hypothetical situation—what would happen if you applied for a job nowadays with their first-ever resume.

The result?

44% of respondents stated they would not be able to land a well-paying job with that resume.

When crafting their first resumes, 27% of Americans asked mom and dad for help with them. 18% turned to a teacher or professor for help.

What cardinal sin of resume writing happened to more than a quarter of Americans? Having a resume that was two pages long.

Unsurprisingly, nearly 40% of respondents are embarrassed by their first-ever resumes.

Have times changed? Yes and no.

Nearly half of respondents have updated their resumes within the past two years. But—a quarter of respondents haven’t updated their resumes in over 10 years.

The average American rates their resume confidence as a 6.5—with one being not at all confident and 10 being completely confident.

No matter if you’re trying to land your childhood dream job or simply transitioning to a new one, crafting the perfectly tailored resume is a necessity.


Key Takeaways

Let’s recap what the main findings are from this new research:

  • More than 6 in 10 Americans failed to fulfill their childhood dreams of landing their coveted job.
  • 6 in 10 Americans wanted to be a doctor when they grew up.
  • 27% of respondents asked their parents for advice when writing up their first resume.
  • The average American rates their resume confidence as a 6.5.

About Us

Zety is a professional resource that expands beyond writing a resume. Find advice on 

how to choose a career, the best job sites to explore, and ways to complete your application by creating a compelling cover letter with our cover letter maker and cover letter examples.

About Zety’s Editorial Process

This article has been reviewed by our editorial team to make sure it follows Zety's editorial guidelines. We’re committed to sharing our expertise and giving you trustworthy career advice tailored to your needs. High-quality content is what brings over 40 million readers to our site every year. But we don't stop there. Our team conducts original research to understand the job market better, and we pride ourselves on being quoted by top universities and prime media outlets from around the world.

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Bart Turczynski
Editor at Zety since 2016. His career advice and commentary has been published by the Financial Times, Hewlett-Packard, CareerBuilder, and Glassdoor, among others. With a strong passion for statistics and a background in psychology, Bart makes sure all the advice published on Zety is data-driven. Linkedin Website

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