Technology, Innovation, Impact. Humor on the side.
Practically everything in my line of work is fast-paced: you go in, you spend a few weeks/months figuring out solutions to clients’ thorniest business problems, you show them a new strategy and help operationalize solutions, then you’re out. Different industries. Different clients. Different locations. While exceptionally thankful for the learning opportunities and free vacations thanks to rewards flights and hotel points — I kept feeling something was missing and that I needed to do more, though never quite sure more what? And, then I met Mandy*.
Mandy was a manager who had staffed me on a project in an area I knew absolutely nothing about. Eager to learn something new and prove myself, I threw myself wholeheartedly into every challenge thrown my way. I could be working late and send an email at 1am, and she would respond at 1:30am. She appeared to be superhuman and function on little food or sleep. One day, as we were wrapping up for the evening, Mandy whipped around and asked me: So, what are you trying to do long-term? I was taken completely by surprise and mumbled something about not being completely sure and that I was hoping that exploring all these different industries/areas through consulting would help me figure it out. Mandy was none-to-happy with that answer.
It turns out that Mandy was highly interested in running the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation long-term and she had spent the last 10 years working as a management consultant to gain relevant transferable skills. I couldn’t believe it – this lady was on track to make partner soon and yet she had long-before known that long-term the nonprofit world was where her heart was at.
How do you *know* what you want to do long term, Mandy? How are you supposed to figure that part out?
And then, Mandy introduced me to the fine art of navel gazing.
Step 1: Ask Questions – Know Thyself
Your life purpose does not just suddenly come down and hit you. Your passions and skills evolve and shape over time. You cannot possibly know yourself or what you ought to do long-term until you start digging deep into your past and understanding what has made you into who you are today.
Mandy immediately sprung to a whiteboard and started asking questions and drawing out a timeline for my passions and experiences accordingly. I encourage you to do the same. The questions seem really simple, but once you have notes on answers drawn down on a page — the connections and trend-lines start forming…
1. What do you love about your current job? What do you dislike about it?
2. What work/internships did you hold prior to this current job? What drove you to taking the current job?
3. What did you major in? How did you pick that major, that university?
4. What activities were you involved in? What organizations/leadership roles were most important to you? What caused you to join the organizations/activities you did?
5. What subjects did you enjoy? Hate?
6. What extra-curricular activities were you involved in? Why did you choose them?
7. If you could go-back and change something from then, what would you change?
8. Where there any teachers/mentors/classes that stuck out from that time? Why do you think that’s so?
9. Did you struggle any in your childhood? Why was that?
10. What did you want to be when you grew up when you were a kid? What traits do you believe that occupation now symbolizes (e.g. – At one point or another, I wanted to be a doctor, a ballerina, an animator for Disney, and a lawyer. To a child, a doctor symbolized “saving the world”, a ballerina was beautiful and graceful, an animator was wildly creative and always making things come to life, and a lawyer was “standing up for others” and “putting the bad guys away”.)
Step 2: Analyze
Take a look at your sheet of paper after you’ve HONESTLY answered the 10 questions above and have notes jotted down, Hopefully, at this point you see some trend-lines/themes forming from across your life. Whatever these themes are — THAT is the core to who you are, who you have been, and likely the qualities/passions you want to keep going forward.
For example: I had always presumed I had first become a gender equality activist in college because women in my department only consisted of 11% of the total student body and it led me to get heavily involved with the Society of Women Engineers. In reality, gender equality had been a historic theme of mine: from being the only girl in my high school Academic Decathlon team in the 11th grade to being the only girl playing soccer with the boys in elementary school during recess — everything I did since I was a child exemplified my passion for being treated equally.
Step 3: Evaluate: How do your passions and skills translate to your job, hobbies and involvements?
Question #10 is quite telling. When you are a child and don’t know much about jobs and money – your vision of what you will become is telling of the traits you want to exemplify in your adult life. Analyze that and your experience/passions that have developed along the road and you’ll get the “themes” you want to someone incorporate in your life – be it through work, hobbies, or volunteerism.
While as a child I thought I would be a Doctor-Ballerina-Animator-Lawyer, and somewhere down the road I became obsessed with technology/engineering. I believe in my adult life the combination of everything translates to a long-term career as an entrepreneur (creative individual, helping people through product innovation) and simultaneous gender equality activist (“saving the world”, fighting for what I believe is right).
We don’t often stop to think and reflect on who we are and what makes us into the people we are. We try a million different things, envy others that “have it made”, and believe “happiness” is just the next job or bonus or vacation away. Instead, know what makes you you through some intense self-reflection – and you’re already on the right path to figuring out how to live a happy meaningful life with a long-term career you love.
*Name changed to protect identity