When I was 5, I told my mum I wanted to be a road sweeper. Here’s what she said

When I was 5, I wanted to be a road cleaner. No, I mean I really really wanted to. It was a life goal at that age. I wanted the freedom to walk around under the sun, sweeping leaves to my left and right and making a path for myself. I wouldn’t have to go to class and I could sweep any way I liked, as long as it was clean later on. Being out in the sun was probably my favourite thing then. Even better if I could sweep a playground because then, I could play anytime I wanted to. Probably invite my friends.

Like this guy, basically

Like this guy, basically

It was the ultimate job for 5 year old me. But whenever I told anyone about my cleaning ambition, I’d get the following responses:

  • “Huh? Boy ah, road sweeper no money one leh.”
  • “But very difficult one leh, ah boy”
  • “So hot, you want to stand under the sun ah?”
  • “You’ll be poor leh boy”

By the time I was done telling most people about my aspiration, I’d been put down and silenced multiple times. So when I got to my mum, I was sort of ready to just hear the usual spiel about being poor and the job being difficult. Instead, she said something I’d never forget:

“Can… But you have to be the best road sweeper ever. Cannot anyhow sweep ah. You clean house with me always not clean one.”

That really made an impact. At 5, I was convinced I had mum’s support in my janitorial career choice.



However, it wasn’t until I was 21 that the intent of her statement came home to roost. She probably didn’t take the aspiration too seriously, but she definitely wanted me to find it within myself to be the best at anything I wanted to do, and that no job was beneath me. Also, at the right moments, this was about not taking “No” for an answer.

I’ve carried this statement for the past 9 years, pulling it out every once in a while to find some self-belief when things got difficult. It’s helped me strive harder, dig deeper when things don’t go my way and ask myself for more.

25 years on, mum will still tell you the same thing about doing your best. 25 years on, my cleaning skills are still a little too “anyhow” for her. 🙂

One comment

  1. Jeremy says:

    Ah, kindred spirit! I too wanted to be a road sweeper when asked in class, around 5 years old. This was London in the early 70s.

    Truthfully, the reason for me was was not a love of sun but because I thought the giant, noisy hoover with the brushes that you got to push was pretty cool.

    All the other kids said things like policeman, astronaut, nurse – with absolutely rigid conformance with the gender stereotypes of the day. I was unique, the only road sweeper! Yet my teacher seemed strangely unimpressed.

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