The inevitable question that one is forced to answer at some point in their lives – “what do I [really] want to be when I grow up?“

Allow me to provide a little context first: I come from an immigrant family, starting my life in the US when I was in 1st grade. My parents have held many odd jobs where they started work at the crack of dawn, and often worked very late into the evening so that our family of four could live comfortably. I’m now in my 30s, doing relatively well professionally and socially, but I am struggling to answer this question. So then I started thinking of options: 1) do I get out of the rat-race and start my own business, 2) do I go back to school and get a master’s degree, or 3) continue collecting a paycheck and focus on saving more, etc.

Now that I have some “run-time” with being employed full-time for over a decade, I am starting to become more and more aware of what is going to make me happy, which is being myself – seems like a very obvious and simple response, but do you really know what being yourself means? Let me provide my views on this. A fair warning, it’s about to get philosophical, and not based on scientific theories or analysis. 🙂

One key lesson that I learned early-on from my dad was to never say “no” to any [logical] opportunities. You’re probably thinking of many questions now – “what if it leads to wasted time?”, “what if it takes me in a totally different direction?”, etc. Well, I can sincerely say that I also thought about these questions, and many more, that would have limited my exposure to a world of experiences. The concept of saying, “sure, I’m willing to try it”, has led to some positive experiences, and some challenging experiences in my life. From trying my hand at life guarding even though I struggled with knowing how to swim “properly”, to working at a grocery store, to booking a trip and traveling to a country that has significant language and cultural barriers with just 1-day notice (no joke!), to calling-in sick on several occasions to help family and friends, to leaping from a not-so-senior position to a senior-management position, to driving through a picturesque terrain that had un-detonated Soviet-era land mines in the fields on either side of the road, to conversing with a non-English speaking pharmacist to get medication for a rash I developed from feeding pigeons, to being an average student among a circle of family, friends or colleagues who are the brightest in their respective fields… you get the idea. Now think of your own exposure and experiences you have accumulated over the years. Okay, now create two circles that are the size relative to your positive and challenging experiences, respectively. Is one bigger than the other? Why does this matter? Well, to tie things back to my philosophical belief of being happy, humans evolve and grow by making decisions in life, and a decision is based upon experiences in life, whether they are positive or challenging. If one circle is smaller than the other, a decision may not necessarily be the most effective with respect to what you are ultimately trying to achieve. There needs to be some balance in experiences – granted, the circles will never be the exact same size as life is, and should be, unpredictable. When these two circles converge and overlap, it creates a Venn Diagram. The overlapping area is then the ability for you to make decisions based on both, positive and challenging experiences through the exposure you have to the world around you.

I have witnessed several family members and friends that are the same age who have not had an opportunity to go through challenging experiences. Therefore, their decisions have been based upon mostly positive experiences in life. What I witnessed was that they struggled through those decisions, and were not happy with the choice(s) they made, or the outcome of those choices – probably due to a “risk-taker” mindset that has been shaped from the experiences, and many other variables to mention in this short blog :). On the flip-side, I know a friend who has gone through lot of struggles in his life. His decisions were based upon mostly challenging experiences, which led to a lack of growth – professionally or socially – probably due to a very risk-averse mindset that has been shaped from his experiences, environmental factors, socioeconomic status, and so on – again lots of variables at play. The commonality with both scenarios is that they are struggling to break through the ceiling that they have created for themselves. As the saying goes, try to take yourself out of your comfort zone, whichever category you fit into.

So, my perspective on figuring out “what I want to be when I grow up” comes from trial-and-error. Go out there, try new experiences, and don’t be discouraged if it wasn’t what you expected it to be. Learn from it, and grow from it! it will lead to happiness!