May 2015 marked the last of my 20s, and in true start-up spirit I wanted to pause for reflection and do a retrospective on what worked, what didn’t, and what I can improve over the next decade in my pursuit of total life awesomeness.
Although brevity is the soul of wit, some stage-setting is necessary for this post.
So, what the heck just happened over these last 10 years?
Since 20, I:
- Traveled the world for the first time, and opened my eyes a to entirely new forms of culture and natural beauty
- Aggressively pursued my career, transitioning from hardware and software engineering, to management consulting, and most recently to clean tech entrepreneurship
- Experienced momentous rights of passage, including graduation and marriage
- Came to see my parents and grandparents, more than ever as people and friends, and saw my family expand to include nieces and nephews (4 and counting!)
- Had a lot of fun! Which for me, usually involves doing something adventurous in nature, especially when paired with a local beer in a place I’ve never been
- Ultimately formed my own identity, and started to embrace the art of not trying to be all things to all people
What does total life awesomeness mean to me?
- Having the time and resources to chase my greatest ambitions around nature, technology and connectedness
- Reaping the benefits of a tailored, designed lifestyle (a term I’ve borrowed from my wife Min) that keeps me happy and healthy
- Maintaining meaningful connectedness with the people I care about
- Building a resilient mindset that allows me to enjoy the day-to-day, ride the ups and downs, and have fun in this brief, ever-fleeting moment we’re granted in life
So what worked?
1. Being open to change. It’s hard to understand clear cause and effect in the opportunities I’ve followed, but I can say with certainty that being open to any new challenge, regardless of how far outside my current capabilities, comfort or geography has yielded great rewards, and is one I intend to maintain for the rest of my life to the greatest extent I can.
2. Working hard with extreme focus. I’ve come to realize that I can get myself into a sometimes scary state of focus and execution. I don’t always use it in the right place at the right time, but this has made me valuable to the projects and organizations I’ve served, and build up extreme confidence that makes me believe that any problem can be solved given enough time and resources.
3. Being interested in people, and being generous with my time. Everybody has a story to tell, and every story presents the opportunity to learn something valuable without having to fully experience it myself. I try to be interested in everyone I meet, and am always surprised at the uniqueness and variety of their tales.
What didn’t work?
1. Trying to do everything myself. I think I always considered myself a leader, but am realizing that’s likely often related to my point #2 above. I work hard, can take on many projects at once, and in a sense lead by example. However, this isn’t to be confused with strong leadership. I think I have a long ways to go in terms of building teams, sharing responsibilities, and lifting myself out of pure “do” mode to communicate the bigger vision, and pull on my peers and team mates in the pursuit of that vision.
2. Not asking enough. In exchange for working hard, it’s easy to expect that your colleagues, friends and family will reciprocate evenly. But that makes a lot of assumptions about shared understanding and quality of communication. I’ve been guilty of getting frustrated that I’ve somehow been done a disservice with respect to the hard work I put in, when it would be much more productive to simply ask for the reciprocation I’m expecting. My negotiation class during my MBA shouldn’t have been, but was mind blowing in terms of presenting this revelation. Sparing random chance, you don’t get things in life if you don’t ask for them.
3. Getting pulled into the ebb and flow of convention. There have been extended periods of time where I’ve felt directionless, and rather than doing something about it would just keep working away hoping something would change. I especially appreciate the friends who tolerated me during these periods, where likely complained about my situation without asking nearly enough questions about how they were doing. Much of my 20s was guided by a conservative interpretation of what I was supposed to do. I went into engineering because it seemed like the natural progression for someone who’s good at math and science. I held off leaving Deloitte to start a business because I was always a year away from my next promotion. While these have been excellent building blocks, time is of the essence now more than ever and the onus is squarely on myself to define the career and lifestyle I want to chase! This means challenging more conventions and giving that little voice in my head a lot more respect than I ever have before.
Nothing ends at 30. But we also shouldn’t wait until we’re handed a major life change to reflect and improve. I think I’ve found a handful of strengths that will serve me well, and found some high impact areas that I can improve. I hope if you’ve made it this far that you can resonate with some of what I’ve learned, feel inspired to reflect on your own journey, and up your game in your own pursuit of total life awesomeness.