So…I’ll be the first to admit – I’ve spent the majority of my life living in fear.
Fear that I won’t succeed. Fear that I WILL succeed and then people will expect that of me all the time. Fear that I wouldn’t live up to expectations. Fear that at some point people would realize I’m winging it. Fear that I’ll disappoint the people who believe in me….
And that fear has driven me to do some pretty great things, get into pretty great schools and companies. A healthy dose of fear is what helps us survive, so I’m not advocating for it to be banished completely.
But at some point, in the last couple of years after finishing b-school. I started to realize that I was climbing the proverbial ladder to some distant nebulous goal of ‘success’ I hadn’t really defined myself. Despite my ‘accomplishments’ (the names on my resume, the schools I’d gone to, the companies I’d worked at – all the things that generally people would point to and say I’d ‘succeeded” in life), I wasn’t really striving towards MY version of happy.
And then I realized I had no idea what actually made me happy. So I started wondering what exactly was driving me to choose the jobs, relationships, and lifestyle that I was pushing myself towards.
The more I read, talked to people, (even went on a silent meditation retreat to find that inner voice)…the more I realized that the decisions I was making weren’t based on the biggest, best, possible future I could imagine…it was me subconsciously running from some terrible yet-to-occur possible future where I was socially shunned, broke and a complete failure. Or, it was me being paralyzed by the idea that I’d been given so much that if I didn’t do something GREAT and worthy of all of these blessings (i.e. you got into HBS – you HAVE to go run some Fortune 500 company or start a non-profit to help a million people or else you should have let someone else who wanted to be a game-changer have that spot!), I’d be wasting my life.
Which, lets be honest – isn’t cute. It’s not very ‘game-changer’-ish to admit to yourself that you’re not living on purpose…you’re just scared of messing up.
I took pretty drastic measures to try and figure out my happy – I wouldn’t necessarily recommend that for everyone. But what I would say is it’s probably not a bad idea for ANYone considering Bschool…or who’s finished Bschool and are on that ‘real life career path’ now to stop for a minute and question your own motives.
Fear is healthy to a certain point. But Fear will only get you so far. And then…you kind of have to say F it and start listening to that little voice inside that was there all along that you’ve been ignoring that’s been trying to tell you to go left when the rest of the world is telling you everyone is going right and that you should follow the crowd because it’s safe over there.
I think us MBA-types sometimes lose respect for our intuition. We over-rationalize our way into the roles that “make sense”. But sense is usually based on the life we THINK we’re SUPPOSED to lead, not on the life that would allow us to be the biggest version of ourselves.
I’m not saying quit your job tomorrow because it doesn’t wake you up jumping out of bed for joy every morning. And I’m not saying don’t apply to the highest-ranked most prestigious b-school you can because you know they don’t have a major in what you want to do for your life purpose.
There are choices we make because we have responsibilities in life and the need to pay the bills is real. But. Some of the happiest people I know are happy because they took the plunge, got real about what THEIR happy looks like, despite what the “successful MBA life” looks like, and found a way to handle responsibilities their own way.
Close your eyes and rebel against your everyday version of success. Think about what decisions you’d make (what school you’d apply to, what job you’d take, what relationships you’d choose) if you weren’t afraid, if you were focused on YOUR version of happy. Think about what YOUR happy really is.
Who knows. You might surprise yourself.