I can still remember being 17 like it was just yesterday; being confronted with the biggest question of my life (at least that’s how it felt back then) — what do I want to do for the rest of my life?
That question was daunting then and in many ways, it’s still daunting now. At 17, while still in my pre-adult stage, that question overwhelmed me — I was completely obsessed and consumed by it. If your guidance counselor was anything like mine, the question was worded similar to the one above, except it was “what do YOU want to do for the rest of your life?”
Me? Wow geez, I don’t know!! That’s probably how many of you responded or what you thought. That was my first reaction and then things shifted.
Back then I was certain that I wanted to be an architect. I was so proud and confident with my decision that I told the entire world! My whole family knew about it and even Freddie down the street heard all about it (more than once)! As it turned out, I never spent a day in an architect’s chair nor did I attend architecture school for that matter! What did I take instead? Urban Planning — a similar field to architecture yet they were two completely different jobs. One dealt with the design of a structure (architecture) and the other dealt with the planning of cities or communities (Urban Planning). Here’s the big kicker, I never spent a day in a planner’s chair either! Lesson#1: We have the power to create and accomplish anything that we desire!
What did I do instead?
Well, after 4 years of post-secondary education, I decided to do something different! I thrust myself into the corporate world, in a business I knew nothing about — Telecommunications! When I first started working as a new graduate, I didn’t even have a business degree, which wasn’t a problem at the time because I was hired for an entry-level position. The only requirements were moderate communication skills and the ability to absorb information — both of which I developed in school. Lesson# 2: School teaches you fundamental skills that are transferrable. As the business world grew on me and my love for solving corporate problems also grew, it became clear to me that if I wanted to progress at a faster pace, I would need to get a post-graduate degree, so I decided on a master’s in business.
A quick side note: during the 3 years that led up to that decision, I also spent most of that time contemplating law school. The reason I shared that with you was to illustrate how complex our decision-making process is. You can spend years thinking one way and making a totally different decision. That was another life lesson that I learned, which brings us to Lesson# 3: That things can change in a heartbeat. Lesson# 4: How you embrace that ride and what you decide to learn will determine the quality of your experience.
As human beings, we constantly strive to find certainty in our decisions, but it’s not something that is easy to achieve because what our heart wants is constantly in a battle with our logical side. We also have added pressure from other people and sometimes those are the closest people to us. During those 3 years, my family members and friends constantly harassed me on what my next steps were! But with 4 years of university and a little bit of life experience under my belt, I wasn’t quite the rash 17-year old I used to be — who felt the need to make quick decisions, sell certainty (one of the 6 human needs covered in a previous blog: Are you experiencing the 3Us? Uninspired, Unmotivated, Unfulfilled) to the world and appease others. Certainty as a need in general may not be important to us when we were younger, but coming across as certain was. That’s because it was closely tied to a confident and responsible image and image meant everything to me back then. Today, image is only important within specific context — i.e. our profession or business. Sometimes also in other areas depending on our personal experiences and maturity. Nonetheless, the pressure was there and I knew that this time around, there was a lot more at stake.
After completing my master’s degree, I spent another 7 years working on corporate projects. During that time, I took on various different roles and responsibilities. My goal was to climb the so-called “corporate ladder” and eventually be in an executive leadership position. I even had a vision on the impact that I can make through my ideas and leadership style. Those close to me knew of this vision and could probably sense the passion that I exuded, but as I drew closer to fulfilling that vision, things began to change. I couldn’t pinpoint exactly when things began to shift, but what I can tell you is that I wasn’t unhappy with the work that I was doing. In fact, I enjoyed (and still do) managing people and playing a role in helping businesses improve and grow. There was nothing wrong with the things that I was doing, but there was something missing. Lesson# 5: There’s a difference between fulfilling interest and fulfilling passion. There is nothing wrong with either choice. Remember the importance of certainty as a human need? Sometimes we satisfy that need by completely invalidating an opinion or decision because it puts us in a position of feeling right or powerful. I was tempted at first to take that position, but it was simply not the case. Over the course of the past decade, I have developed key analytical and leadership skills which I have already proven to be beneficial as a life coach. One of the most important characteristics that I developed from my work on business re-engineering and change was curiosity, which has become one of the key guiding principles for my personal development.
I know some of you are struggling with career choices or with a job market that is extremely scarce (at least in certain sectors). To add insult to injury, the world is constantly changing, and it’s changing at a rapid pace! The world today demands more from us — we are expected to know more and learn much faster. The reality is these challenges are only going to get fiercer, which means competition will be high. This isn’t based on my personal opinion. Take a look at businesses today — consumers are expecting better quality and a wider variety of products. Also take a look at today’s job requirements — candidates are expected to be more educated and experienced. There was a time when a high school diploma will get you most administrative or entry-level positions. Today, most jobs require a college or university degree and for higher positions, a master’s or specialized degrees are sometimes required.
I provided that insight not to discourage you, but so that I can provide you with the next lesson, Lesson# 6: Confront your reality. In order to properly plan and prepare yourself, you have to be crystal clear on the current state. The good news is that we live in an information age, where everything is available via the worldwide web. You just have to be proactive in seeking the information and then using that information to execute your plan. I’m going to borrow the first 3 habits from Stephen Covey’s “The 7 habits of highly effective people” to prepare you; According to Covey, the first 3 habits are:
1) Be proactive and responsible; be the “programmer”
2) Begin with the end in mind and write the “program” based on your mission statement
3) Put first things first and run the “program”; understand the discipline and commitment that is needed
These 3 principles represent what Covey refers to as the “private victory”. Through the development of these 3 habits, you will develop an abundance mentality and you will be less threatened by other people. You won’t see life as a zero-sum game because you will find a way to create value and be in control of your own life.
I am going to leave you with 3 guiding principles whenever you feel stuck:
1) Determine your mental focus and develop one that will support you. For example, do you view yourself as a victim or someone that is in control? If the answer is the former, then shift your mental focus. What appears to be a problem can easily be changed to an opportunity.
2) Identify new things that you can learn. The more you learn, the more resourceful you will be.
3) Always apply what you have learned, either newly acquired knowledge or skills.
The last and final lesson is Lesson# 7: Be in constant learning and application mode. As discussed above, if you want to be highly effective, you have to consistently be focused on learning and applying. That way you won’t risk falling behind others in society and be able to contribute at the highest level. If you commit to learning and applying what you have learned, you will be a winner every time (at the game of personal growth and progress)!