What Do Today’s Teens Aspire to Be When They Grow Up? We Asked Them

Ask a teen graphic

One of the most thrilling aspects of being a teenager is vision-boarding the rest of your life. All sorts of imagined futures are possible—with each new career one considers, an entirely different existence comes into frame. Geology might lead you to fantasize about a double life where you spend the school season as a tenured professor in the Midwest and summers conducting field research in South America. Law? Non-profit work? The arts? They each present different lifestyles, different communities, different adventures.

These thought experiments are a timeless tradition—but our cultural ideas about what’s aspirational, urgent, or even possible change as the culture does. So we surveyed 64 teenagers about what they want to be when they grow up right now in 2019.

What our survey revealed is that teenagers are big-hearted and hopeful. They’re afraid of the world that older generations are leaving them, but still excited to play their part in it. They see their future selves being happy, fulfilled, loved—and, in more than one case, married to Timothée Chalamet. Read more below, in their own words.

Top priority: making the world better, not worse

“After learning about the humanitarian crisis at the border in Arizona, I became determined to know more and become involved. I’m working on collaborating to get an exhibit at my school that memorializes the thousands who have died. It’s a silent issue and I want more people to know, hence the exhibit.” —Lila, 18, Louisville, future anthropologist

“I see so many problems in our society today that I believe have a root in a general lack of empathy and education about each other. I want to help bridge gaps between cultures and our understanding of each other.” —Meredith, 18, New York, future museum curator

Climate change denial is not the vibe

“I’m scared of the world dying and still being around when it happens. We have TEN YEARS to make change before irreversible damage is done, and I want more than ever to get into the world and help make real change to save our planet.” —Ella, 17, Edina, MN, future lawyer or professor

Creativity and fulfillment are a big, big deal

“I love theatre and writing. I could never do a normal office job. I have so much respect for the arts and want to be a part of that community for the rest of my life!” —Sydney, 18, Los Angeles, future TV writer

“As a published author I’ll finally accomplish my life-long dream and perhaps experience the feeling of being successful, even if I don’t sell any copies of my published work. (However, I’d be lying if I said a little fame wasn’t also an appealing factor.)” —Sarah, 19, Howell, MI, future author

College feels important, but it definitely isn’t everything

“I’d love to find a mentor. All my life I’ve been searching for guidance. I’ve tried school and I don’t think it’s the path for me.” —Zoe, 19, Spokane, future sustainable fashion designer

“A four-year degree is definitely important to me, but I view it as more of a stepping stone. Alongside college I’ll need to get a few internships under my belt, network with people in the business, and write whenever I have time (even if I don’t feel like it).” —Sarah, 19, Howell, MI, future author

Their friends aren’t all on the same wavelength

“Whenever I express that I’d like to be a mom to my friends, even if I mention it offhandedly, the majority protest that it’s not something I need to care about for years to come. They have the dreams they’re supposed to have. Wanting to be freelance journalists, lawyers, architects, and so on. I usually sit there quiet, wishing I also wanted to be a lawyer or a doctor because that would be simpler to explain.” —Agnes, 19, Göteborg, Sweden, future mother and literary worker

“A lot of my friends don’t know what they want yet, but my best friend wants to be a child behavioral psychologist, another wants to break into the African entrepreneurial market in Rwanda, and the rest want to go to art school. My ambitions don’t align with anyone else, but that means our reunions are going to be crazy.” —Renata, 18, St. Petersburg, FL, future POTUS/environmental policy maker/founder and CEO

And, actually, every teen we surveyed should become a novelist, based on these exemplary fanfics they wrote about a random Thursday in 2034

“Thursday is coffee day. Well, every day is coffee day, but on Thursday morning I meet my sister for coffee at our favorite cafe. Of course, I dress as if I’m Diane Keaton in a pair of thrifted trousers. After coffee, I walk to my office space, where I write freelance pieces for various progressive online fashion publications. Lunch will be drunken noodles from a nearby Thai restaurant, and I gaze out of the office window to admire Chicago. A few hours later, I return home and throw on a pair of sweatpants before settling on my couch to continue writing my latest manuscript. A small poodle is curled into a ball at my feet to keep them warm, and to keep me company. A bookshelf against the wall of my living room holds all of my favorite novels along with many that I’ve written. To end the day, I turn on a movie with my partner and I’ll most likely fall asleep halfway through it. I dream that I’m Sally Albright, only to wake up and realize that I’m something even better: myself.” —Sarah, 19, Howell, MI, future author

“I get up and make myself breakfast in my cute little apartment in West Hollywood. I drive to Sunset studios in my electric car and listen to NPR as I commute. At work, I go over the next couple week’s scripts with my writer office buddies. It’s probably a lot of work, but it’s fun work. Then we go to the stage and film part of an episode. A scene isn’t working, and I swoop in and save the day with a super awesome suggestion. Hours later we’re done and I go get a yummy LA vegan dinner to celebrate my contribution that fixed the script. Then I go home to my cute and quirky girlfriend and we watch TV together and fall asleep to the sound of some cynical animated show for adults.” —Sydney, 18, Los Angeles, future TV writer

“I toss back my curtains to reveal the rosy glow of sunrise streaming into my Manhattan penthouse and begin to brew the strongest coffee known to mankind. I dress from my closet filled with The Row and whatever Tracee Ellis Ross generously decided to hand down to me after an intense session with Marie Kondo. I bike to work at the Met and eat yogurt on the steps à la Blair Waldorf. Then I walk into the doors and oversee whatever new collection helps to illuminate cultural nuances and to help strengthen people’s connections with one another. Then after a long day, I walk into my apartment where my darling husband Timothée Chalamet will be cooking me dinner. He will let me taste the risotto he’s been laboring on because he has blossomed from a teen heartthrob into a verifiable Sauce Man.” —Meredith, 18, New York, future museum curator

“‘It’s 12:30, time for my next appointment!’
I walk out of my office to head toward the waiting room, a smile on my face. As I look around the waiting room searching for my next patient, I recognize two men sitting in the corner. Seven months ago, the brothers were in a car crash and sustained serious injuries. As the lead nurse practitioner, I helped them regain strength after the incident. Today, they are coming in for their last checkup.

‘Tony and Alex?’ I say excitedly.

Today is the moment of truth; today decides if they get to resume normal life. I love that I get to be there every step of the way. From ER visits to follow-ups to clearings, my care for patients lasts their entire medical journey. I am reminded of that every day.” —Kalor, 17, Columbus, OH, future nurse practitioner

“I’ll be thirty-four. I have two children: a daughter, age nine, and a son, age six. Let’s say their names are Greta and Gabriel. Since Thursdays are schooldays the day would start fairly early, around six o’clock. My partner makes breakfast while I wake up the children. We eat breakfast together: croissants and orange juice, before walking the children to school. During the day, my partner and I work, and I’m doing something in relation to literature.

When children get home from school I make fika, usually chocolate milk and sandwiches with cheese and cucumber. I help them with homework at the dining table while simultaneously answering emails. My partner and I make dinner, and we all eat together. After dinner it’s tea time, with cookies, of course, and we read aloud to the kids. And then it’s pretty much bedtime. Voilá.” —Agnes, 19, Göteborg, Sweden, future mother and literary worker

“I wake up at 7 am with my tumeric-ginger-oat-milk latte already in my hand. I put on my pantsuit with a tee and white sneakers. I work in a tall, green building with trees and shrubs covering the sides that is reminiscent of Bosco Verticale in Milan, and my 24th floor office looks over a garden and a mural of Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Today, we are testing denim that is made out of ocean plastic and organic cotton, while discussing possibilities of buying land in Indonesia to make into a nature reserve for orangutans, tigers, elephants, and more. I get a call from Amal Clooney, my mentor, to discuss suing conglomerates in southeast Asia for their destruction to their natural resources. After I hang up, my phone buzzes again from a text from my second husband, Timothée Chalamet.” —Renata, 18, St. Petersburg, FL, future POTUS/environmental policy maker/founder and CEO


Abbey Maxbauer is a NYC-based writer who loves astrology, movies, teens, and the internet.

More from Archive