This article is meant to be for my friends or 3-4 girls in early-mid twenties who sometimes chat with me on life, career, whatnots. A disclaimer I would throw out is that I don’t have all the answers, and that it is prudent to gather advice from all angles. Here I have summarized main ones I have gathered over the years and glean from my own experiences.
A little subsection on getting advice.
People tend to speak from their own experiences and their own framework of knowledge. They also tell you what they need to hear themselves or feel like they need to live by, because those advice have rung with them. There are folks when you ask for advice would admit to this – that their advice is somewhat limited by their own experiences, but by perhaps gleaning from those that are different from yours, you may have something to gain from it. So while it makes sense to gather as much advice and information as possible, such as reading this article, get advice from people who actually care about you. The useful advice would tend to come from a good heart.
Ok, so think about the ideal life you want. Does it require you sitting on a pile of money with a house and a respectable title under your belt? Does it involve children? Does it involve a life with mission for God with vision trips? Or perhaps it looks like owning a pasta shop at a grandma shop in Modena, Italy.
All sounds great.
Let’s think through how you might be at that place.
Some people refer to the chart of ikigai, a map of values, things you like to do, and things you’re good at. Combined with what the world needs, there is your answer in middle of the map.
Eh, this map is great, but may not be that practical. Making those choices require bits of wisdom, humility, and life circumstances that accommodate your ideal choices.
Myth 1. Show the best version of yourself
In this age of social media, sometimes it is all about the way you look. How are you presenting yourself, your abilities, and your know-how?
Before you move on to the next, reflect on where you are. How is your family? Friends? Health? How are you mentally and spiritually? Financially?
If you are not in a great place financially, I suggest start by reading Robert Kiyosaki’s Rich Dad Poor Dad. Learn about assets and liabilities, taxes and interests, personal finance, how to set-up your bank account, invest in your next $1,000. Index funds! You get the picture.
Reflect on your priorities. I like to use mindmaps just to take a pulse on where I am. I don’t believe that we change or grow that significantly, but we can try. We can try to make choices in our lives that help us achieve milestones on our personal goals. I like to think of this as internal control mechanisms like operations of a company. Learn to take care of yourself and those around you, build self-awareness, and be brutally honest with yourself. An inkling of your thoughts would indeed contain your true reflections. A friend or parent sometimes who is not afraid to be honest with you and have known you for a while might be a good resource. Showing the “best” version begins with self-reflection of what you think is important.
Value and worth are very different things.
Myth 2. Follow your passion.
Maybe you found a calling – something that makes you feel like you have a mark on this world that sets you apart from the others. Something original that you have discovered or gives you a sense of ownership. That’s wonderful.
From my own experience, passion is not something that you stumble upon. It’s something you explore from within as you hike them out of your own experiences, thoughts, and ideas. You may hit a flow during your work and that may feel incredibly satisfying. For instance, even right now as I’m typing, I’m able to focus, put in a sustained amount of energy, and may feel like writing is my passion. Yes, perhaps it is a medium that I enjoy doing. Therefore, passion is often confused with an activity, not really a calling.
Whatever you’re interested in, whatever is tickling your pickle, your work has to feel meaningful for you that it gives you a sense of satisfaction, a moral conviction, or that you’re growing as a person. Passion is a combination of something you pave for yourself that gives you meaning and satisfaction. And because you had intended for those choices and believed in what you are working towards, it gives you satisfaction in what you’re working for.
Once you know what you like doing activity-wise, able to articulate my tendencies, and what you like to do, where strengths and skills are, you can craft a direction.
When I was at Vanderbilt University studying foreign policy for the first time, I felt like I was taking a stab into a world of academia I was not qualified for. I had come from humble backgrounds in liberal arts – Anthropology and Communications. I was just merely interested in how cultures are shaped by the way we communicate. And perhaps through rooting the theories down, we’re able to shape how do form our policies. That led me to an internship with USAID, studying foreign policy, and into U.S. Department of State. My passion was not in international relations, I was just interested in how people communicated through their perceived differences and backgrounds, and how we evolve and change from the interactions. I’m now moving into finance, and what I find is that our core interests of who we are and what we believe tend to stay quite similar. The way that they manifest in our careers may be different, but hopefully we enjoy our applied skills.
So you may enjoy doing certain things. You may be interested in certain topics. That’s a great start.
Apply what you enjoy doing into that certain topic. What I’m finding is that the skillsets replicate across industries. Conducting diplomatic agendas are similar to perhaps sales, fundraising, or even investor relations. Metric tracking can be done in marketing, engineering, or how companies perform. Passion you develop from where you apply what you like to do. From my best knowledge, passion does not just hit you one morning.
Myth 3. Just Do it.
In this generation, we are inundated with media that says “fulfill your highest potential” or go out and do what it is that you want to do. My disclaimer is that yes, with courage and a gut in your belly, it is so incredibly exciting to go out there and start working on your idea.
“You won’t know until you try it.” is another saying that goes around. “You won’t know what you can fulfill or make of yourself” is also incredibly enticing.
Perhaps this will make more sense. Think of your body as a tool – oil and gas for your tool would be knowledge capital, human capital (your network), and your skillsets. Here is the thing. No matter how much capital you have, the tools have to work well. It needs to function the right way and have a specific purpose.
Build your toolkit, before you start.
Surprisingly, this may not be entirely intuitive to this generation. Don’t let fear get in your way, but what are you really good at? Things work well, when you know what you’re doing.
If you just need to build your confidence, you can start by “just doing”, building confidence in your ability, and build some amount of pride in how what you have envisioned blossom into reality.
For instance, I remember when I had to put an event together. It meant quite a lot to me at the time. I have been involved with impact investing communities that have not had too much interactions with federal or local policy makers. They may have needed some faith in the institutional decision-making process. On the other hand, the federal employees are laden with the responsibility that they shoulder to know what they’re doing for the good of the people. The truth is – we don’t. And all that the government can facilitate is potentially a platform, a convening power, capital, or legitimacy. Those who are movers making changes are in the private sector. The government folks needed to also demystify their sectors and allow for cohesive conversations for public-private partnerships to take place. I just wanted to bring people together for a singular event that I had to fundraise for. That means I had to bring all the main movers, shakers, and authority figures for this event. And with the help of my amazing team, I needed money. I grit through it. I sent thousands of emails each week, created different versions of fundraising slides, and did my best to convince the other guy on the other side of the table to invest into this conference – this 26 year-old was hosting. When it finally happened and my vision unfolded with the money I fundraised, it gave me an immense amount of satisfaction and a conviction that when I set my sights on it with the force of will, things will happen.
With a dose of confidence also takes a dose of humility. I needed to be able to bring the pieces together, and build skillsets upon what I already know and don’t. I needed to grow as a professional to be more self-aware and draw from inner strength within. My skill was in sales, fundraising, partnerships, and in strategy. What I needed to build was in how the industry functions on operations. I can hire for the right talent, but I also needed to have a solid backbone to back-up my orchestration. This would add to my toolkit of what I can do.
Build who you are as a person and what you can do.
Myth 4. Time is of-the-essence.
What is so harrowing in this age is that we are also taught to move fast before your friends or co-workers catch-up to you. Another disclaimer here is that I’m very competitive and ambitious. But you don’t have to rush into anything. I found this to be liberating.
People don’t really care about you.
Here’s another thing. We get caught-up on how people perceive our own talents and accomplishments that we may forget take a timeline that makes sense for our own for our values and priorities. It is OK to pause for your sick grandmother, or your child struggling in school. Have fortitude to say no to take care of yourself or those around you. People move on, they forget. I have C-suite executive friends in high-rung corporate ladders, but life moves on with or without them. Work will continue to get done.
So let go of your expectations and pressure to be something that you think you should be. Because, what it comes down to, is that the concoction of the life you build just has to be meaningful and satisfying for you. Not for anyone else.
Especially in Korea, where collective values and actions sometimes trump over the individual, it is hard to pin down something of your own and make your voice heard.
It takes a bit of courage and a bit of self-conviction, but it does not have to be difficult. You don’t have to be successful, or good-looking, or smart to have the life you want. You just have to follow your own order of priorities and values you create for yourself.
I like to think of it this way – the way your external-self (how you present yourself to others) look into your internal-self (how you feel about yourself) has to match. If you’re happy at the end of your day about the decisions you made without seeking external approval, that is perhaps more important. I’m not saying you should be inconsiderate, but with some nuance, grace, and candor, you can speak-up about what you really think and want. It is okay to take your own timeline. Everyone has their own.
Designing a life for yourself is not complicated.
It just takes some compassion, wisdom, and courage to make choices that make sense for you in your order of life. Each one is unique and wonderful.
There is no right answer, and there is no one rushing you to be something you are not. You don’t have to follow your “passion” or what you think is your “calling.” It just has to feel meaningful for you. So take some time and let go of all expectations around you, a moment of contemplation of what you think is important and lay them in a way that makes sense for you. Take some personal milestones, take pulse checks, a gratitude mental notes, and find moments of satisfaction in the choices you make that fits in an order of life that makes sense for you. Be fearless in pursuing that. I think you’ll surprise yourself.