The Caterpillar and Alice looked at each other for some time in silence: at last the Caterpillar took the hookah out of its mouth, and addressed her in a languid, sleepy voice. “Who are you?” said the Caterpillar.
This was not an encouraging opening for a conversation. Alice replied, rather shyly, “I—I hardly know, sir, just at present—at least I know who I was when I got up this morning, but I think I must have been changed several times since then.”
Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Chapter V: Advice from a Caterpillar
Whether in high school or as an undergraduate in college, it is hard to decide who you are, i.e., what do you want to do for a living, or as some put it: What do you want to be when you grow up? And this is especially true when it comes to which math courses should you take.
When people ask you about your future, they sound like the lyrics in the following song.
Well, who are you? (Who are you? Who, who, who, who?)Who Are You ~ Song by The Who
I really wanna know (Who are you? Who, who, who, who?)
Tell me, who are you? (Who are you? Who, who, who, who?)
‘Cause I really wanna know (Who are you? Who, who, who, who?)
And you may not know! And that is fine. Even in college I did not know what I wanted to be, or do with the math I learned. I just knew that I wanted to go to college and study mathematics! In my undergraduate studies (applied mathematics) and obtaining my master’s degree (operations research, statistics and management), I studied and enjoyed mathematics. Yet, I still did not know what I wanted to do with it. Life took me in many directions and led me to retirement, rekindling my love for mathematics and helping others with the information in this website.
Throughout my life I have asked many people if they chose their current profession and trying to use their experiences to ascertain what I wanted to do with my life. The answers I received varied, I am not sure that they helped me, and I did not pursue the subject in earnest. So, let me provide a snippet of information from the article, What Do You Want to Be When You Grow Up?2, for you to think about your future, and possibly with mathematics as a part of it.
A rock star. An astronaut. A professional athlete. When you’re a child, your career aspirations are the stuff dreams are made of. And whether you’re passing notes to your best friend, sizing up the new kid at the next locker, or suiting up for the world’s longest gym class, you’re secure in the knowledge that when you grow up, you can be anything you want to be.
To explore the intriguing connection between childhood career aspirations and adults’ chosen occupations, we surveyed over 2,000 people to discover what they wanted to be and what they do now. And to gain insights about today’s kids, we also asked respondents what their own children want to be.
Do childhood ambitions really affect which occupations people choose as adults? How have kids’ career dreams changed over time? Are people happy with what they turned out to be – or would they rather be optimistic kids again, telling their friends at recess that they’ll be famous one day? Whoever you are and whatever you hoped you would be, this intriguing analysis will take you back to childhood – and just might spark your excitement about the future.
The article on the Trade Schools, Colleges & Universities website provides several images that show how childhood dreams meet adult reality, kids’ evolving career goals, the difference between childhood career plans for boys and girls, childhood dream fulfilled according to job satisfaction by industry, career goals of kids in 2016, past and present childhood career aspirations, and your career, take two.
You may be asking: Where did I end up in all of this? I enjoyed all of the jobs I had throughout the years because in one way or another, I ended up using some mathematics. But now I realize that the job I would really enjoy doing now is being a mathematics teacher. Crazy? Possibly. I had not thought about being a mathematics teacher until I recently rekindled my love of mathematics.
Let’s get back to Alice and the Caterpillar. (Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass are two of my favorite books.) What does this encounter have to do with growing up and deciding what to do with your life? Note what Jennifer Borama1 stated about the importance of the Caterpillar to Alice:
There are so many important things that happened during this meeting that gets lost easily. First off, the Caterpillar was really the very first character Alice meets that actually made an effort to help her out. Everything in Wonderland was quite confusing for Alice, and the height changes were beginning to really take a toll on her. The Caterpillar, though antagonistic in nature, still told Alice exactly what she needed to know in order to get back to her original size. While she still may have had difficulty doing this, at least she had some type of direction. In addition, the Caterpillar wasn’t the only character that was acting contemptuous. Alice herself made insulting remarks that may not have been directly aimed at the Caterpillar, but it was still haughty regardless.
There are many interpretations that can be said of the Caterpillar, but the most popular notion is the idea that the Caterpillar represented change for Alice. After all, she met the Caterpillar after having gone through so much change in her height, and many experts believe that the Caterpillar was there to show Alice that change is not necessarily a bad thing. In fact, change can even turn into something beautiful–a fate that the Caterpillar would eventually experience.
Do not be afraid of change, e.g., the way you dress, the career you choose, and where you live. Eventually you will find out who you are. And if that includes mathematics, so much the better because math is fun!
Observe constantly that all things take place by change, and accustom thyself to consider that the nature of the universe loves nothing so much as to change the things which are, and to make new things like them.Marcus Aurelius
1 Borama, Jennifer. 2018. “Why The Caterpillar From Alice In Wonderland Was So Important”. TVOvermind. https://tvovermind.com/caterpillar-alice-in-wonderland/.
2 “What Do You Want To Be When You Grow Up?” 2020. trade-schools.net. https://www.trade-schools.net/learn/childhood-aspirations. ⭐
“Pictures From Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland – Alice-In-Wonderland.Net”. 2022. Alice-In-Wonderland.Net. https://www.alice-in-wonderland.net/resources/pictures/alices-adventures-in-wonderland/.
Doyle, Alison. “What Do You Want To Be When You Grow Up?” 2022. The Balance Careers. https://www.thebalancecareers.com/what-do-you-want-to-be-when-you-grow-up-2059788.
Loper, Chris. “7 Problems With “What Do You Want To Be When You Grow Up?”” 2021. Northwest Educational Services. https://www.nwtutoring.com/2021/12/12/7-problems-with-what-do-you-want-to-be-when-you-grow-up/.
Shipman, Mel. “How To Choose What You Want To Be When You Grow Up: 13 Steps”. 2022. wikiHow.com. https://www.wikihow.com/Choose-What-You-Want-to-Be-when-You-Grow-Up.
Strum, Mike. “What Do You Want To Be When You Grow Up?” 2022. Medium. https://forge.medium.com/what-do-you-want-to-be-when-you-grow-up-885594c62db6.
Walbert, Meghan Moravcik. “Stop Asking ‘What Do You Want To Be When You Grow Up?'” 2019. lifehacker. https://lifehacker.com/stop-asking-what-do-you-want-to-be-when-you-grow-up-1833741627.
⭐ Zeke the Geek. “Would You Tell Me, Please, Which Way I Ought To Go From Here?” Mathematical Mysteries. 2021. https://mathematicalmysteries.org/2021/11/29/would-you-tell-me-please-which-way-i-ought-to-go-from-here/.
⭐ I suggest that you read the entire reference. Other references can be read in their entirety but I leave that up to you.