When I was a kid, I was absolutely convinced I was going to be an academic physicist when I grew up.
This conviction probably had to do with both my natural interests, which were heavily oriented towards math and science, but oriented away from anything "gooey" (ruling out biology); and with my entertainment preferences, which involved a lot of hard science fiction in space, where physics shines and many of the heroes were physicists. I was also young and naive enough to believe that academia was like some kind of knowledge-producing utopia, which made it much more appealing than the seemingly business-oriented world of computing.
(My parents get a lot of credit as well... not necessarily for pushing physics in particular, but for being science-positive people in technical fields, unfailingly supportive of their geeky son and also the sorts of people who watch Star Trek and Babylon 5 with their kids.)
Things, of course, did not turn out as I predicted: while my undergrad experience as a Physics major was pretty close to perfect, grad school (in materials science) shattered my perception of academic science, and put me through several different kinds of hell due to problems with my thesis project. After grad school I ended up in high-performance computing doing cluster administration and systems engineering. It's a ridiculous amount of fun and I'm very happy, but it seems pretty distant from those dreams of doing physics in academia.
Despite this, I'm still
- Problem solving and reasoning skills
- Exposure to a broad(ish) range of math
- Appreciation for other fields
- Experimentation, data, and computation
- Closest thing to a "liberal arts" science degree