A firefighter? A doctor? A debt-ridden college student? Whatever your answer is, this question is probably the most important question you'll ever be asked: What do you want to be when you grow up?
For many of us, the answer is not always so clear. Some people seem to be born with a vision, a personal mission, or a career path in mind. But for the rest of us, the quest to find the right path to success can be a lifelong struggle.
What keeps so many of us from finding and defining our path? I think that in part, we are lacking examples of people that have created a flourishing and fulfilling life. Whatever their goals were, they started out not knowing what their future would hold. These people are out there, but they're not being spotlighted enough as role models and mentors. Especially when growing up in poverty or near-poverty conditions, having someone influence you that has "made it" can change your life.
I remember being told to work hard, stay in school, get a good job and climb the ladder up to maybe a manager position. Get in somewhere good, put in the hard work, and you will be rewarded. But now we're not seeing job security for workers, and more people are turning toward things like entrepreneurship, leveraging the internet, and exploring new markets to create businesses and livelihoods for themselves.
While I'm really just beginning to find my path, I've learned some very helpful things along the way that have led me to where I am now. I'm only running for local county government, and not the popular races like Senate or Congress, but it's an example where my previously acquired skills, experiences, and relationships created a unique opportunity for me; one that I was ready for. I want to share with you some simple concepts that have helped me move toward a more creative and fulfilling career.
Lean Into It
One thing that I know for sure is, don't wait for some big "aha!" moment to come and show you the way. Maybe some people operate best waiting for a sign or a revelation, but really we just need to get moving! One of my favorite personal development books is The Success Principles, written by Chicken Soup for the Soul author, Jack Canfield. In it, he discusses the principle Lean Into It. Here's an excerpt from the book:
Oftentimes, success happens when you just lean into it—when you make yourself open to opportunities and are willing to do what it takes to pursue it further—without a contract, without a promise of success, without any expectation whatsoever. You just start. You lean into it.
No matter what your situation is, just pick a direction and go. And realize that you will not be able to see where this path is going as you're traveling along. It requires faith in yourself and a strong connection to your intuition. Trust your gut and move. Pay attention to yourself and your environment. By this you will gather the reference experiences you need to develop as a professional.
You may go on for years without any clear picture developing and that is OK. You're not wasting time if you're gaining experience, working on developing into a better version of you, and being open to new possibilities, situations, and people. As you travel, you will begin to accumulate the knowledge, experience, and connections that will be the very ground which your future career will rest upon.
One day you will find yourself with an opportunity to move in a new and exciting direction, and much of your knowledge and experience will come into play . You will have already put in the work and the long hours, and will be ready when the moment comes.
Maybe it's not your qualifications that got you the job, it's the personal connection you made with so-and-so's secretary. Your qualifications backed you up, but it was your ever-increasing people skills that got you past the gatekeeper and into the door. If you had never started down a path, you would have never gotten there. All of the things you gain from "leaning into it" work together to help you get from where you are now, to where you want to be.
Have Courage (Believe in You)
So instead of waiting around, thinking and planning for your future career and coming up short, just get started on doing something. Anything. I tell people that if you want to start figuring out what you should be doing, get an easy job that you hate! You'll spend most of your time thinking about what you'd rather be doing, from stuff like hanging out with friends to the big picture stuff like what moves your soul. Get a job sweeping floors and see what ideas you can come up with in a few months' time. Then make another move.
Your best friends right now are courage, self-awareness, and more courage. Courage comes from faith in yourself and the belief that you can achieve the goals you've set out for yourself. Self-awareness comes from paying attention both to your surroundings and to yourself.
- Courage. Believing in yourself and not believing in yourself require the same amount of energy, and they come from the same place: your mind. One leads to encountering new opportunities, the other cuts you off from the will to prepare. It's not a tightrope act, it's like climbing a winding staircase and you can't see where it's going. You just have to have faith that you're moving up.
- Self-awareness. Look inside yourself* and see what patterns emerge; which thoughts, emotions, and behaviors are getting in your way and which ones are leading you towards your goals? Look around you and see what patterns emerge; what things are getting in your way and what things are leading you towards your goals? What people? What situations?
Think about who you are and how you have changed over the years. Think about any talent you might have where other people remark that they could never do it, but it's easy for you. What personality quirks can be used to your advantage?
*(I recommend that people engage in some sort of mindfulness practice like sitting meditation, yoga, or tai chi.)
Whispers & Screams
There's one last point I'd like to make, and this is for the people that have too many things they'd like to pursue. What a great problem you have! If you're bursting at the seems with great ideas and have no way of deciding which one is best, fear not. It's better to have too many good ideas than no good ideas, or only mediocre good ideas. But you still need a way to discern a path.
I recently heard a saying on a podcast that I will pass on to you. It goes, "There are many good ideas that whisper at you. Some of them scream. Follow the ones that scream."
Follow the ones that scream. Of all the good ideas you've come up with, which are the ones that shout the loudest? That call your attention the most? Which are the ones that you have the most skill for? The most experience? The most passion?