Growing up I always heard two lines from adults. “Chad, you can be anything you want to be when you grow up.” Then it would lead to the follow-up question. “So, Chad, what do you want to be when you grow up?”
As a 10 year old I’m sure I gave a short answer and then ran off to play. While this was an ongoing annoyance of childhood, I’ve never given it much thought, until now.
These two questions are all about dreams until one day it’s time to get serious. We go from thinking we can be anything, to thinking we need to be one thing. For me it started right before college. I had to pick a major, the foundation of a future career.
When I decided to be an engineering major, I had no idea what an engineer did. My choice was more of a process of elimination than a belief of what I wanted to do. Four years of engineering taught me a lot, including the fact that I didn’t want to be an engineer.
Over this time I was investing in another education. I had a side business and was learning how to be an entrepreneur. On top of that I started the online edition of our student newspaper. While I only received a degree in engineering, I got more than one education.
This experience helped me land my first job at high flying software startup. It also started me on my next journey in life. I learned how to be a sales person, a product manager and a product marketer. Four years earlier, I thought I was going to be an Engineer. Boy was I wrong.
In fairness to me and other 18 year olds at that time, we didn’t know much about the world. It’s one reason why 75% of college grads end up with a career unrelated to their majors.
What do I want to be?
Back to our famous question. What do I want to be when I grow up? My answer is different now and here it is. I am passionate about being a husband, father, entrepreneur, writer, speaker, handyman and inventor. I also expect this list will change in the next five to ten years and then again ten years later.
I don’t see life as a straight line or a single one for that matter
I used to think I would graduate college, get a job and start building a career. This is what I saw all around me. My grandfather was a career mechanic. My other grandfather was a career newspaper printer. Back then a career was success and it was permanent.
The days of a career mindset are gone. The world is changing too fast. New fields are being created and eliminated in the course of a few decades. For anyone with a career mindset, this is terrifying. For anyone with a growth mindset this is exhilarating.
Opportunities are everywhere, if we give them a chance. Some of the most successful people in the world walked away from careers to pursue new passions. Walt Disney was a newspaper editor before starting his company. Julia Child, the famous chef, was a CIA spy before giving up her gun for a spatula. And then there is Andrea Bocelli. He was a lawyer until he turned 34 and then became one of the most famous voices of our time.
Can you imagine what our world would be like if these people, and others liked them, stayed on a single path? Too many people believe they are stuck, like being on a highway with no exit. Research shows that two-thirds of Americans are unhappy with their jobs. It’s hard to imagine all these people going to work every day and being miserable.
I suspect most people do it because they think it’s too late to do something new. The examples above are proof that this is nonsense. It’s never too late.
When do I grow up?
Back to our question. What do I want to be when I grow up? The notion of growing up is subjective and sends the message that time is running out to figure out a path. When do we grow up anyway? After high school, college, getting married?
The answer to this question should be never. There is no finish line in life. There is no mastering life. You can only keep practicing, keep getting better.
Elton Trueblood said “Life is lived best when it is lived in chapters.” I love this concept. I’ve already had some great chapters in my life and looking forward to writing more.
About eight years ago I remember closing one chapter and starting a new one. I was working at a pre-IPO startup, but saw limited opportunities to grow. Then an opportunity came along to run marketing for a brand new startup.
I had a decision. Option A was to stay at a proven company, wait 2-4 more years to go public, cash out and move onto my next gig. Option B was to go to a three person startup that had a few million dollars in funding, no product and no customers.
The second option also gave me a chance to be a first-time company executive. This was something I believed was part of my life plan and something I was ready for.
Based on this summary it is easy to guess that I went with Option B. But I didn’t give you the whole story. First, I had to take a big pay cut. Next, I had to empty my savings to exercise my options from the first company. Then, I had to come up with even more money to pay taxes on those options. And this was all a bet that the first company would go public and be worth something someday.
This was by no means an easy decision. It took a lot of thought, counsel and some guts.
Looking back, the decision wasn’t about money or titles. It was all about living the life I wanted to live. The decision came down to growing. Not growing up, growing.
Life can give us so much, if we decide to take it. But, to make sure we value what we get, life makes our choices challenging. We’ll run into all sorts of obstacles. Friends and colleagues will often encourage an easy path. Society at large sends the message to be what is accepted or expected. Getting overwhelmed by expenses is another trap. Financial pressure is like a wet blanket on our dreams.
We’re all chasing the elusive creature called success. We believe if we catch it, we’ll receive happiness. I’ve caught it before and I can tell you it doesn’t.
Life is messy. Life is about change, whether we like it or not. I’ve chosen to embrace this change and I’m happier because of it. I don’t want my work to define me and I don’t want others to define what I do. Being intentional about my choices is the first step. The next step is to keep growing.