What did I come this way for?

Yesterday’s 10-year anniversary of 2001’s September 11th terrorist attacks got me thinking about where we’ve come as a country since then. Are we more conscious of the value of life, or even the temporality of it? Do we spend more time focusing on what matters? Are we making aims to be a happier, more thoughtful, caring society?

My simple answer was no. And I’m not really sure why not. I spent the summer in La Paz, Bolivia – where the standard of living is certainly lower, the political atmosphere is just as heated, the people have even more unemployment, and racism runs pretty deep. Still, I don’t think that the people were any less happy: but work and ambitions were often a means of survival rather than choice. Now that I’m back in Michigan, I realize what a gift we have to be afforded the opportunity to actively choose what we want to do.

I’ve spent a solid 87% (20/23 years) of my life in school, and it’s always shocking to sit back and consider that the more I learn, the less I know. As I’m taught new and exciting topics, I realize that they all have a depth that my brain will never be able to completely master – and there are thousands of  subjects I’ll never even begin to unravel.

At the same time – I see just how fascinating it is to embody the few things one does happen to be interested in, and recognize the miracle it is to discover exactly what you want to do! Especially with such a multifaceted and variegated world in front of us! It really begs the question – how did I get where I am today? Just a year ago, I was in a completely different place mentally, and my career-track looked a lot different. Where were you?

Personally, I can remember having the Charlie-Brown feeling exemplified in this Peanuts cartoon (borrowed here), many-a-time. But the thing about pondering just how you arrived to where you are today means that you came from somewhere else, and you have a desire to go forward from here. Where there is desire, there is motivation – even if it’s teeeeeny tiny. And motivation makes LOTS of things possible! I’m stubborn, so I had to learn it the hard way – but here’s what I know now:

You have to be your own super-hero.

The Batman kind: he wasn’t born an other-worldly mutant who had abilities unmatched in any mortal on planet Earth. Instead, he was just a rich dude who used what was within his means (albeit ridiculous and abnormally far-reaching means) to save a city from creepers and murderous ego-maniacs.

The problem is, that ‘Saving Gotham’ is a huge goal. What made it attainable was breaking it down into little feasible chunks that – when accomplished over time – could add up to something greater.

We have to do the same thing: pinpoint the overall goal, and then break it down. What do you really need? Can you break that need down into smaller pieces? Can you break those smaller pieces down any further? What’s the piece that’s most reachable from where you’re standing now? Are there people around you who might be able to help make the step to that next piece a little easier, or even a little less lonely?

For me, learning to use the community of colleagues, friends, classmates, and professionals to teach me things that would have taken much longer to learn on my own, was a really really hard lesson. I was raised to follow the principle that everything worth doing was a struggle, and that things were best learned when doing them on your own. It took some dedicated friends, and years longer than it should have, to realize that asking questions and learning from the example and advice of others didn’t mean that I wasn’t ‘doing it on my own.

It’s kind of like trying to make it through an obstacle course with a blindfold on. If you’re all by yourself, you’ll get a lot more bruises, and take a lot longer to find reach the finish. If you have a friend looking out for your interests, they can shout commands while you make the trek; you’re still doing the work yourself, but you have extra eyes steering you where they can. Further, they can see you persevere. If you replace that ‘friend’ with a colleague or acquaintance, you often build a network of individuals who will vouch for your efforts and skills in the professional world!

You don’t need to change, you just need to find your niche & keep learning.

Fact: there’s nothing wrong with you. Or me (although sometimes I wonder about the ‘me’). We’re probably just weird. Luckily, being weird is cool. When I was 3 and had glasses, I thought I was lame – but you know what? It’s 2011 and suddenly, everybody wants their own stylish pair. It just took 18 years or so for the world to be ready for the trend I started embracing in pre-school. You’re probably a trend-setter too :) Just be confident – it’s amazing what kind of attention confidence can bring.

Talk. A lot. Always about what you’re passionate about.

When you talk about your passions, you’re probably captivating – most people are. Real, raw passion is undeniable and I love learning about new things from people who clearly love that thing more than any other thing in the world.

Pursue those passions: there’s no investment that will ever have a better pay-off than yourself! Spending your time and energy with what you’re interested in, and abandoning what turns out to be not-so-interesting will be well worth it.

Don’t get me wrong – if I could go back in time and put my 10-year-old-self’s $200 savings account into a stock for Pixar, or Apple, I would. But those days are over. So while we’re waiting for Professor Trelawney to apparate and read our tea leaves, let’s get busy doing the things we love!

Everybody is a failure at least once.

Truths: a.)people change their minds, and b.)people fail. All the time.

BUT, I completely and wholeheartedly believe that some of the worst, most difficult, awful, hard-to-get-through experiences in my life have taught me the most about myself, what I need, and who I work well with. The Tabula Rasa that we all started with is pretty scuffed up at this point, so we might as well find a way to learn from those mistakes and blessings we’ve gained along the way. Learning what not to do can sometimes be just as useful as learning what you like. Sometimes more so. You might need to take a few fruitless stabs at some of your interests to determine whether they’re good fits, or misfits.

If you hate something, stop doing it. Now, please.

My undergraduate dream was to get my Ph.D. and become a European History professor at a reputable University. As much as I loved the subject matter – the politics and bureaucracy of academic institutions was too much for me. I realized that the dream I’d had for so long just wasn’t making me happy anymore, and I wanted a new one. I also realized I’d wasted years of study on something that was completely wrong for me. After a brief period of wigging out and trying a bajillion new things that fell all over the spectrum, I zeroed in on my passion for museum studies.

Now I study Archival science, perform cataloging at a library, and am working to gain experience fitful for museum employment. I get to try all of the LAMs, and it’s awesome. 

I changed my mind about my first dream – but I’m glad I ditched it to try something new. If you spend your entire work-day waiting to go home and spend time with your hobbies – maybe your hobbies should be your day job. Here’s a NYTimes article to further convince/swindle you into doing just that.

You’re going to fall. But when you do, get up quickly.

It’s okay to whimper for a little while, but more time you waste feeling sorry for yourself, the less time you’ll have to do the things you love. Why? Because you’re going to die. The average person lives to be ~78 yrs old. You probably retire at 60, and don’t even start your first career until 25-30. So it’s go-time. I’m not saying you have to find the perfect thing now. You can be a financial banker now, a baker when you’re 40, and write a hilarious, but worthless book when you’re 55. Who cares?

What I mean is, you can do whatever you want, and every experience is an experiment that will help you decide what to do next. Wanna know what else is cool? In 20 years, lots of careers will emerge that don’t even exist yet. So it’s pretty guaranteed that your current or looming career will involve change and adaptation no matter what. This neato-badito NYTimes article talks about that a little bit.

Learn about the strengths & weaknesses of your personality.

My super-rad boyfriend happens to work at the Career Center at the University of Michigan. He’s really smart, and has taught me a lot about lesser-known resources that can help me learn about my personality, tendencies, and how to build a network of professionals that’s helpful for my career track. One resource that’s worth passing forward:

The Myers-Briggs Personality Type Indicator Test.

I’m an ENFJ. That stands for Extrovert-Intuitive-Feeling-Judger. And it’s SO TRUE. Reading about other combinations also helps me to put my personality into perspective. Just because I like to talk about my feelings, plan every day of my life out, and have a tidy living space, doesn’t mean that everybody else does. Knowing my weaknesses has helped me to keep in mind the things I can work on in order to make it a little easier for other types to understand and work with me. And that’s really important for fueling collaboration and cohesion in any workplace!

Questions to Ponder:

What’s your type? Did identifying it teach you anything about yourself? How often to you re-evaluate and set new goals for yourself? What’s one of the coolest things you’ve done/accomplished in the last two years? When’s the last time you changed your mind about a career? Do you remember the first thing you ever wanted to be when you grew up?

I’d love to hear!

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