Lifelong Plans? Who Needs 'Em!

What do you really want to do in life?

Sometimes the wrong questions lead to answers that seem, at a minimum, idealistic and, in some cases, completed unrealistic.  I’ve asked a similar question of everyone I interview, “What do you want to do when you grow up?”  As I’m gaining more experience and learning more about what’s important to me at different stages of my life, I realize the answer may often turn out to be, “it depends when you ask me and what’s my focus in life at that time.”

When I was starting out in my professional life, I thought I wanted to be a “Self-Made Man,” with plenty of financial wealth.  Once I spent a few years working, and after seeing the lives of some of the business owners for whom I worked directly or indirectly, I realized a few things.  First, there’s no such thing as a self-made man.  Everyone, no matter where they started from, no matter how rich or humble their beginnings, no matter how successful, has had much help from others.  They may have gotten a hand up or stepped over others to get to where they are today.  By no means is anyone Self-Made if the term is supposed to convey someone being successful purely and only due to their own efforts.

Second, many folks who focused purely on financial wealth, were bereft of much else that’s enjoyable in life.  They had poor family lives and/or friendships, or they were too cold in their relationships with everyone except those who could make them more wealthy. 

This latter result certainly didn’t appeal to me.  In fact, I realized I would never want to be so detached from those around me that I focused on nothing but work.  So,  I searched for positions that challenged me and gave me the fulfillment of knowing I’d done something larger than myself…a bigger project, larger budgets, solutions that touched more people.  This meant I was willing to take some big risks by taking on some equally big responsibilities.  I took a few big leaps in my profession then, each of which pushed me beyond my comfort zone.  In some, I was successful, but not so much in a couple of others.  I learned many valuable lessons from each. 

As I married, I realized I wanted my professional life to provide the greatest flexibility so that I may spend the greatest time possible with my family.  At first, this seemed to translate to holding a position with an immediately local company that provided me with upward growth in financial terms so that I could equally provide for my family, while insuring I traveled very little. 

When I was laid off in 2009, I was forced to consider contract work and, sure enough, travel.  I was resistant at first, but as I saw the benefits of working from home and managing my time to be on the road or at local client offices part of the time, I saw how I had more and higher quality time with my family. I opened up to the idea of travel and, in fact, landed a position with a company out of state.  This meant traveling 20 to 30% of the time, at first, and later at about 50% of the time. As I learned to better organize my time, I saw how even 50% travel could be managed to insure I still spent a substantial amount of time working from home and being around my family. 

In addition, these changes taught me that what options I may dismiss today, thinking they reduce my fulfillment, may not necessarily.  In other words, I have to be open to ideas or options I’d previously dismissed or not considered since they could pleasantly lead to better life plans.

What’s the point?

Simply that the question about personal or professional goals and fulfillment is not only personal, in the sense that it differs for each person and their circumstances, it’s also temporal.  So, asking questions about what you want to do with your life has no real meaning.  In fact, it’s the wrong question to ask.  At any point in your life, you should be able to instead ask and answer a different set of questions: what’s important to me now and how does that translate to what I want to do in my life today.  All else will fall into place, so long as you’ve already created your “why” in life.

Here’s the kicker: If I truly believe in this paradigm, I must also accept that even the paradigm may need to change as does my life!

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