What I want to share today comes in three small parts: what I thought, what I’ve learned, and how my new perspective will shape my future.
I don’t know what I want to be when I grow up — and for most of my life I thought that was a bad thing.
WHAT I THOUGHT
The question of what we want to be seems so basic, so integral to how we live our lives. The answer can shape our personal relationships, our physical location, and even our daily activities. More substantially, it can begin to impact our perceived self-worth. If you don’t know what you want to become, you are aimless, goal-less and devoid of ambition— at least that’s what I thought. So what do you want to be?
In search of an answer to this question, I looked outward. I looked to those who appeared happy or successful and worked backwards to a career path that seemed to fit. I thought that emulation was the perfect approach. I had big plans, but no authentic framework in which to communicate them. Following well-lit paths was the easiest way around the challenge of not fitting the mold.
I thought that having plans was more important than making sure they were the right ones.
WHAT I LEARNED
I’ve learned that looking to others doesn’t always work. It doesn’t work because we are complex creatures and happiness is a complex emotion. I’ve learned that individual motivations are often buried under layers of external expectations, pride, and a desire for acceptance. And if we don’t take the time to dig through and unpack these layers we may never know ourselves well enough to truly choose our own path. Instead of looking outward, real insight lies in looking inward. True self-awareness is the most important skill in finding the work that will make you happy.
So, how do we wade through the external motivators to find the real ones? In his famous commencement address at Stanford in 2005, Steve Jobs said to think about dying. He said, “Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.”
A slightly less morbid tactic would be to call on the power of why. As children we ask why of almost everything we come in contact with. And not the why that demands an explanation or questions authority, but the why that is genuinely curious. The why that seeks understanding. Asking why enough times is the most powerful way I’ve found to cut through the superficial and begin to approach the essence.
I don’t know what I want to be when I grow up, but I’m learning that that’s okay.
HOW IT WILL SHAPE MY FUTURE
My mind and spirit weren’t built to do one thing for the rest of my life. I value variety. I thrive with space and flexibility to explore my curiosities. I am motivated by building things—by being a net creator. And I want a legacy that brings joy to others. The combination of these things will certainly not lead me down a well lit path, but I’m happy to hack my own.
I don’t know what I want to be when I grow up, but I’m happy to keep searching.