“What do you want to do?” “What do you want to be?” “What’s your passion?” “What do you want to be when you grow up?” “What do you dream of being?”
Rich. And Happy. With Kids.
Oh, you want to know how? Well fuck off, I don’t know. Except I do, and that is: whatever I can do that will get me there while keeping me happy, letting me live my life, and allowing me to keep my dignity intact/stay true to myself.
I suppose that’s awfully specific for somebody that doesn’t know, but as a thirty-six year old single male that achieved “full yuppie”, and then spent months unemployed until just recently, I’ve had a lot of experience and a fair amount of time to mull this over. What I figured out is that all those questions above seem encouraging and productive, but they can, in fact, be exactly the opposite. They can demotivate and even create insecurity where there doesn’t need to be any.
The thing is, some people have dreams when they are little, but as we grow, we change and (hopefully) so do our priorities. When we’re kids, a lot of us really hate taking naps. Sleep is so boring! But years later, as an adult, nap time is a close second (and let’s face it, depending on the person, it’s possibly not second) to the horizontal mambo. We grow, we learn, priorities change, and so does what we dream of.
When I was a young boy, I wanted to be a fighter pilot so badly that I studied different aircraft, their capabilities, their combat roles, and even the engines that powered them and who made them. I thought the SR-71 Blackbird was the coolest thing in the world. I grew up, took the ASVAB, aced it, and made the Marines love me (yes, I know I should’ve talked to the Air Force first, but that Staff Sergeant talked a good game.) They told me I could take my pick of assignments between the AV-8B Harrier II (the jet that can take off vertically and hover) or the F-18 Hornet (The fastest and most maneuverable mainstream fighter the US produced at the time.) I was sold on the F-18 and made a soft commitment to enlist I trained with Staff Sergeant Johnson to prepare for boot camp while learning more and more about the program. It would entail military “basic” school, the Naval Academy, and then Flight School specializing (in my case) in fixed-wing aviation. The long and the short of this was a minimum of a fourteen year commitment once I signed on the dotted line. And when that day came, my eighteen-year-old self thought about my friends, my girlfriend, and the person I thought I would become, and I walked away (Sorry Staff Sergeant Johnson.) Once I got realistic about my childhood dream, I didn’t want it any more, and that as okay.
But especially in recent years, society has moved to this obsession with goals/dreams. People who don’t have a specific one are in danger of being labeled as unfocused, distracted, lacking direction, drifters, or any number of relatively negative terms. This, in turn, can make people who don’t really have a specific dream feel insecure about the lack of that dream. They can begin to think there might be something wrong with them and feel like they need to invent a “passion” to define themselves. This can have the opposite effect, and lead to an abundance of wasted time pretending to care about something that is ultimately unfulfilling. Such a situation is much more common that we might think and can easily lead to a number of psychological issues. Ironically, inventing your passion is a very effective way of stifling a real passion you may not know you have yet.
For instance, I remember looking at characters in movies that weren’t the good or bad guy, but were the “right-hand man” and thinking “That would be neat… I could totally be THAT guy rather than the main good/bad guy.” It wasn’t a dream, it was just a respect for that sort of person that I identified with passively. A couple of decades later that’s the majority of my recent professional experience. Even better is that I (generally) like it and have made as much, or more than most of the people I know who are “following their passions”. I never thought to myself “Someday I’m going to be this awesome Executive Assistant!” but by being open to it and accepting the natural evolution of my career in that direction, I realized that I was, in fact, actualizing something I had passively envisioned more than a few times.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not hating on people who have and follow their dreams. I have a ton of respect for them. Many of my very close friends have pursued their dreams and passions and are reaping the rewards of their dedication over the years. They worked hard, put in their time, (most) suffered to some degree, and are rewarded by the option of doing what they always wanted to do. But that’s not everyone, and more importantly it doesn’t have to be everyone. We have to dispel the idea that dreams = life success. They can most certainly create motivation to succeed, but they are not a requirement. There are a number of other ways to motivate yourself.
Achievement and/or success often breeds motivation, and sometimes it takes a whole lot of trying things and failing to find it. Further, you may very well find that what you succeed at is something you never even considered before. That’s where business roles that I call “tool” types come from. They aren’t what you typically think of when you dream of what you want to become. Therefore they often aren’t “visionaries” or well-known business leaders. But instead of having their own dream, they enable/assist the dreamers in order to grow and take their visions to whole new levels.
Maybe you never dreamed of being an accountant, but you find you’re naturally good at it, and it rewards you well leading to job satisfaction and general financial success. That process can make people pretty happy. The same can be said for what I do as an Executive Assistant. I get to live vicariously through extremely successful CEOs, Inventors, Celebrities and other notable dreamers. I am compensated well and often enjoy a number of (expensive) fringe benefits without the drawbacks of being imbalanced as said visionaries often are (out of necessity really.) I stay balanced and I help to balance them, leading to a great deal of personal and job satisfaction.
There are countless roles that can lead to professional success as an “enabler” or “tool”. So I’m not saying don’t dream, I’m just saying that if you don’t have a specific dream, don’t stress it. Provide for yourself (and those you need to provide for) and take pride in that accomplishment. Just keep trying to improve yourself. Try things, fail (more than) a few times if you need to, and focus on what you want for yourself. You don’t have to have a direction as long as you keep yourself moving forward in some way. Keep making your own path, cutting through the jungle of life and you might just find that you look up and discover something that you or nobody else had thought of yet. Accidents like that have made a lot of people both rich and happy.