| 6°C Dublin

My so called life

As freedom and wealth offer more and more choices in what we can do with our lives, it seems that our childish fantasies may not be so childish after all. Five writers ponder what could have been and what actually is

For all the carefully plotted career goals and life plans, you never quite know where you’ll end up. Life moves in mysterious ways. You thought you’d be living in a duplex, glass-surrounded apartment with walls decorated with tasteful art works and bookshelves filled with high-brow books. You thought you’d be having dinner parties where you’d serve nouvelle cuisine on achingly modern designer plates to a coterie of eclectic guests. Conversely you thought you’d be living a life of endless change and adventure, travelling the world, exposing wrongdoing, wandering the deserts and jungles with little more than a Swiss Army knife and a compass in your pocket. And sometimes you’d meet a beautiful stranger and spend a night of passion in a hammock before bidding them a sad but brave farewell in the morning as you resumed your mission. Whatever it was.

But time and circumstance have a tendency to pull us in directions we might never have imagined. A chance conversation in a pub, a casual flick through the job ads, an inspirational article in a magazine — all these things can be the triggers for an infinite number of parallel lives which we could lead. We asked five writers to describe their youthful hopes and the adult reality.

Maia Dunphy

What I thought would happen...

in this cult-of-celebrity-obsessed era of endless reality shows, seven out of ten teenagers apparently give the answer "be famous", to the question "what would you like to do when you grow up?" It's the Noughties version of ballerina or astronaut, which were the classic 80s replies. I didn't want to be either. I wanted to be French when I grew up. Hey, that's nothing; the girl I sat beside in second class wanted to be a man when she grew up. When I realised that wasn't a viable option, I toyed with just about everything else from fashion designer (simply wasn't talented enough) to doctor (simply wasn't brainy enough) and then decided I would be a writer (simply because it meant I could get away with studying arts). My father said my generation have too many choices (the recession will sort that one out). And he was right. We all knew what we didn't want to do; we just found it difficult to decide what we did want. And if it all went wrong, most of us could just start again. His generation had to choose a career and stick with it. All I was sure of was that when I was thirty-something I would be based in Paris, but travelling the world for at least half of the year, and would have signed a 56 book deal.

...And what actually happened

I should have chosen ballerina. Because the 56 book deal hasn't materialised. Yet. I tried a few different things. Over those college summers, I did everything from au-pairing in Paris, to tour guiding for Hennessy Cognac in the south of France, to selling cosmetics in Canada, to working in a petrol station. My best pal and I travelled around Australia and south-east Asia for a year, where I learned that I definitely didn't want to pick tomatoes for a living. Then I spent another year setting up an exhibition at an orang-utan sanctuary in Borneo. No, I did. Really. That hadn't been on my original wish-list, but, then again, I don't remember seeing that option on the career-guidance list. So what happens when someone tries a bit of everything and still can't decide? They end up working in television, which is where I am now. And perfectly happy too, I might add. But childhood plans aren't always futile: that girl I sat beside in second class? He now lives in California, and rides a bike with a crossbar.

Eamon Keane

What I thought would happen...

when i was a kid, there was movie called Doctor Zhivago with this beauty called Julie Christie. I knew that I was going meet her. I'd also sport a moustache just like her co-star Omar Sharif. I remember I played a boy scout in the school play. I only had one line but I knew I'd be an actor and it would, of course, increase my chances of meeting Julie. Away from my thespian aspirations, I played rugby in Terenure and later with Pres in Cork. Playing for Ireland seemed like the next logical step.

In my teenage years, my older brother and myself had our own boy band. We earnestly believed worldwide adulation was just around the corner. After world domination, I'd go solo, as I'd always dreamed of playing my own piano tunes on the big stage.

I loved the sea and used to dream of exotic places like Tahiti. I wanted to swim in blue-green water. I thought I'd own a boat, like the guy in Jaws, charter it out and live the simple life.

We had a bully of a teacher in one school and I used to be very protective of my sister, Niamh. I got some bad hidings but I would always make sure she was okay. It made me want to be either a lawyer or a psychologist.

...And what actually happened

I never did get to meet Julie Christie in the snow. As for my dashing impersonation of Omar Sharif, I grew a moustache in my 20s and ended up looking like Adolf Hitler's nephew.

On the movie-star front, I ended up in RTE and later on Newstalk. And I love it. I'd still love to do a play, though.

I got a schools cup medal, but gave up rugby to chase my musical dreams. (Three of the guys on that schools team went on to play for Ireland. But I'm not bitter.)

The dream of a world music tour ended in Ardmore, Waterford. After playing the local dance hall we slept on the beach. The tide came in and we got soaked. The would-be rock stars headed back to my gran's house where we overdosed on hot chocolates and scones. Wild, eh?

However, in recent months, things are stirring. I've played Whelan's and the Sugar Club. I'm recording an album of my own songs and RTE have asked me to debut it on a chat show.

I never got to Tahiti but I got to swim in blue-green waters in New Zealand. One of the best days of my life was spent standing in the surf catching big sea salmon, the sun shining down.

As for being a psychologist I did a variety of training including a post-grad in guidance and counselling at UCC. I have worked with kids and trained community workers in dealing with the things we went through as kids. And one thing I haven't stopped believing -- you should stand up for someone and for what is right.

Eamon presents Lunchtime on Newstalk


Sarah J Symonds

What I thought would happen...

i knew from a young age I was different. I couldn't wait to get out of my small Welsh village. I was creative as a child and wrote stories and poems to escape mentally. My fascination with celebrities started early on. I remember at just seven-years-of-age, forcing myself to the front of the school assembly hall to be near the Green Cross Code man when he came in to teach us how to cross the road safely. Who cared about that? I wanted to know what was under his green Superman tights and get his autograph.

By the time I was ten I'd found real love. It came in the shape of the Bionic Man, Lee Majors. I used to run up to the TV screen and plant kisses on his lips when he was on. I was convinced that if I could just meet him he would fall in love with me and marry me. We'd have bionic children and live happily ever after in Hollywood. Then one day my world collapsed. I found out that the Bionic Man was already married. To Farrah Fawcett, no less. I seriously considered becoming a nun....

...And what actually happened

I didn't choose the convent lifestyle, but I don't think it would have been for me anyway. I had too much rebellion in me. I never did get the celebrity fascination out of my system, going on to have many real-life-dalliances with household names, some of them married, I'm not proud to say. I often wonder whether I did this to exact my revenge on Lee Majors.

I did escape my hometown at the age of 22 and establish a successful career in PR and marketing around the globe.

A painful relationship I experienced a few years ago turned out to be the catalyst for achieving my lifelong dream of becoming an author, as I was compelled to write my story to help save other women. I may have gone about it in an unusual way, but I am finally doing what I'd secretly always dreamed of -- writing for a living.

I did make it to Hollywood too (and I'm proud of my achievements, including appearing on some of the top talk shows including The Oprah Show, The Dr Phil Show, and The Late Late Show.

Turning 40 last month has inspired me to make up for lost time and go out and look for Mr Right. In fact, I have decided that 40 is the new 20! While I don't plan on wearing white down the aisle, I do think I'm about to embark on quite a journey. But can the mistress ever really become a Mrs? I'll keep you 'posted'. You'll all be invited to the wedding. Or at least the afters.

Katie Byrne

What I thought would happen...

i knew becoming a paleontologist was not going to be easy; I just never realised it would be so damn hard. I was seven years of age and fresh out of first class, and I was on a mission to uncover the origins of animal kind. All I needed was one dinosaur bone.

Excavations were fruitless, save for a few false alarms in the form of decayed branches. Co-workers were hard to find: they were disinterested at best, lazy at worst.

And then the unthinkable happened: a film called Jurassic Park was released. My esoteric interest exploded into a mainstream trend. My carefully constructed wooden dinosaur models were dwarfed by clunky plastic toys with eight different sound effects. My encyclopedic knowledge was challenged and I wasn't the only girl in my class who could spell 'pachycephalosaurus'.

When McDonald's launched a limited-edition dinosaur soft drinks container, I knew it was time to bow out. My market had been cornered.

Acting was the next career choice, 'til the ritual humiliation was realised. An audition that required all the participants to jump into the middle of a circle of happy clappy thespians and "just let yourself go" still brings on a shudder.

A singing career was considered until I discovered that I couldn't. Fashion design looked likely, until the needle on the sewing machine broke. An academic career in science was axed when I realised that class attendance was compulsory.

I'm beginning to understand why the career guidance counsellor I attended at 19 refused to work with me...

...And what actually happened

A quick recount of my erstwhile hopes and dreams has told me that I've managed to achieve absolutely none of the ambitions that I pursued in my youth. It's a sobering yet heartening thought.

I'm 26 and I still live at home. Stranger still, the thought of living away from my family fills me with dread. My priorities have changed drastically. Living with my family and near the mountains now takes precedence over finding a Dublin 2 pad and party-friendly housemates.

I still want a gaggle of children (oh, and a boyfriend too -- that would help) but perhaps not as soon as I previously thought.

I think you get everything you want in life, just not exactly how you wanted it. What I really craved in my youth was adventure and variety. I wanted to be fascinated. I suppose I wanted to be heard too. Journalism opened up all the doors at once. It's given me the chance to meet new people and learn new things every day. I might never discover the illusive dinosaur bone or get to recite the Oscar acceptance speech, but I'm on track, in a meandering sort of way.

Michael O'Doherty

What I thought would happen...

I always wanted to do something I’d enjoy. The daily drudge of learning Irish, of trying to differentiate between a vector and a scaler in fifth class maths, of trying to recall the formula for phosphoro tri-chloride benzene during double biology... Please God, I want to grow up. Immediately.

I liked writing. Shy and reserved during secondary school, essay writing brought out my cheeky side. Set to write an English essay one time, I submitted a single sentence, ten-word masterpiece. My English teacher, Eamon Drea, admired my nerve and read it out in class with his own 200-word critique tagged on. I met Eamon two years ago in the Unicorn and told him that was the day it all started for me.

I wanted to work in TV. While I was in fifth year, a reporter from ITN, Gerald Seymour, came to talk about his job, and 15 minutes into his description of travelling the world, reporting from war-torn countries, then returning home and reading the News at Ten in their plush London studios, I was sold. I also wanted to be a barrister. Growing up with TV shows such as Petrocelli, Ellery Queen and Columbo (Google them, kids), I dreamed one day of standing up in court and shouting: “Objection, Your Honour.” When it came to CAO time, it was top of my list: law in Trinity.

But more than anything, I wanted two things. Firstly, a nice car. And secondly, to grow up — still about 5’ 3” at the age of 14, I thought I’d never even be average height.

… And what actually happened

I wouldn’t trade my job for any in the world. Not once, in more than ten years, have I woken up dreading having to go to work. I’ve created four magazines from scratch and two awards ceremonies — VIP Style Awards and TVNow Awards — which add considerably to the gaiety of the nation. I deal only with creative and mostly young people, while publishing magazines that are well-known and, generally, well-liked.

I got back into writing just over a year ago, courtesy of this very paper. It’s like I’m right back in English class 30 years ago, except this time I’m paid by the word and get to swear.

I’ve done a bit of TV and enjoyed it. But, if I’m being really honest, there are other things I’m far better at, and I really should stick to them.

I’m glad I never followed a career in law. I’d have been bored and mediocre, I’d have had to wear a three-piece suit, and I’d probably have been even more pompous than I am now.

I’ve had nothing but nice cars. A Fiat 850 Spyder, a Fiat X19, a Golf convertible, a Ferrari and now a Lamborghini. Just like my working life, they just keep getting better.

And best of all, I did grow up: I’m now 5’ 11”.

But as you can guess from my priorities, aged 45, in other ways I never really did.