The first book I am reading in 2019 is Michelle Obama’s Becoming. I’ve been intrigued by the title she chose because it’s something we all are working towards: becoming who we are meant to be. It is an evolutionary term that allows us freedom in knowing that nothing is finite. Even who we are. Mrs. Obama recently told Oprah Winfreyin an interview, “I don’t know what the next step will be.” 9 words that have never been more comforting at a time when I, like so many others, are wondering if we should have it all figured out by now.
We grow up expecting that when we’re “grown up” everything will fall into place. We will have the perfect job, the perfect relationship, the perfect family, and the perfect home. Of course perfection is all relative but still, there is the expectation that if we do well in school, work hard, find a good job life will pan out as expected. I remember thinking back to when I was 25, mortified that I was halfway to 50 and nowhere near that perfect life. I know, crazy right? Now that I am even closer to that milestone I remember that girl and think how much she thought she knew and how much she still had to learn. And that’s what the next 2 decades were about for me, a learning experience. Two decades of sometimes harsh lessons about others and myself that I needed to see and go through in order to understand that life isn’t what we are told when we are young. It isn’t about one end goal, it isn’t about a predictive path with guaranteed results, and it isn’t about a happily ever after. But here’s what I have realised: that’s a great thing! I’ve realised that life is a process of elimination, it is research project where the subject is me and where the goal is a deeper understanding of who and what I am and want. There is a relief in knowing that there are do-overs and that we can try new things if a certain path comes to an end. Yet so often we are faced with the same mindset of needing to “be” someone and that being is sometimes defined by someone else’s perceptions of what success is, all to be achieved in some arbitrary timeframe.
Human beings evolve and change because we have to in order to survive. We have to adapt to the changing landscape of life as we see it. We all want the same basic things–to be happy. We want our children to be safe and happy, to have all the opportunities afforded to them that perhaps we didn’t have. What the human race is slowly understanding is that happiness isn’t defined by the number of zeros on a paycheque or how many bedrooms we have in our house, or how many cars we drive, let alone what kind of cars we drive. It is about finding that thing inside our soul that gives us meaning. As one employee interviewed for an articleabout happiness in the workplace said, “success has nothing to do with happiness – it’s about winning. I know plenty of successful people who are unhappy”.
It isn’t easy thinking that way. There are still many of us who have that fear of leaving that path of working at jobs we don’t enjoy, jobs that make us stressed, work that doesn’t feed our spirit. For so many of us, there is a frustration that emanates from us because we are doing what we feel we have to do, rather than what we want to do. And therein lies the internal battle we all have within us. There are no guarantees that becoming who we want to be will pan out and give us the life that we want. There are risks in leaving the well-trodden path. But what I learned and it’s a lesson many are learning, there are no guarantees that that “stable job” is in fact stable. Downsizing and restructuring are words that have become commonplace in our vocabulary. We have to figure out for ourselves what is the bigger risk? Fortunately, we live in an age where there is more information, more encouragement about our desire for self-awareness, and more willingness to be in touch with who we want to be.
Aristotle said, “You are never too old to set another goal or to dream a new dream.” I realised I have to unlearn a lot of things while at the same time learn new ways of thinking and doing. I am learning that I certainly don’t have it figured out and that I can look to the younger generation to help guide me towards the next phase in my professional life, whether it is new technologies or mediums or a way of working. It’s no secret that millennials are driving change in the workplace by demanding work/life balance and the flexibility to work remotely. These were things even people of my generation never dreamed of asking for when we were just starting out. But my hats off to this young workforce for changing a landscape that needs to be changed and setting the precedent for people like me to do the same. A studyby Deloitte found that when asked, 77% of millennials would want to “work from home or other locations where they feel more productive.” Interestingly, the study also found that “when salary or other financial benefits are removed from the equation, work/life balance and opportunities to progress or take on leadership roles stand out…” Bottom line, we all need to earn a living and that is undoubtedly a crucial factor, but it isn’t the only factor. In my early days of looking for work and during my parents’ generation, balance wasn’t something we really ever considered, or more accurately, were allowed to consider. Today, I choose to work from home because I can be where I am physically needed most, at home with my son. It’s like what that other Greek philosopher Socrates said, “The secret of change is to focus all of your energy not on fighting the old, but on building the new.”
Winston Churchill once said, “success is not final. Failure is not fatal. It is the courage to continue that counts.” It took a long time for me to learn and understand that professional success isn’t an obvious path. I had a very successful career as a television journalist. Now, my path is taking me in a different direction where my focus is on my family but ALSO my creative side. Finding ways to earn a living that will enable me to do both is key to my sense of personal satisfaction and happiness. When I interviewed the Academy Award winning actress Cate Blanchett in Sydneya few years ago and she told me something that I continue to hold dear. She said, “I’m not interested in building a career as such. I’m more interested in the experience…I think if you are in a creative sphere or if you are hungry for experience, then those experiences don’t necessarily happen like the rung of a ladder or in a linear way. And to me, that’s a dynamic life.” A dynamic life. That wasn’t what I was taught to strive for when I was a child. I was taught to do well in school and get a good job so I could earn a good living. What I will be teaching my son is to go in search of a dynamic life.
In my life so far I have been a student, an assistant, a reporter, an anchor. Now I am a wife, a mother, a writer, a blogger through which I am becoming an entrepreneur. In her book, Michelle Obama says “one of the most useless questions an adult can ask a child–What do you want to be when you grow up? As if growing up is finite. As if at some point you become something and that’s the end.” We may all have 2, 3, or 4 careers in our lifetime. I am realising that there will be many chapters in my book of life. It is scary and I feel (and have felt) uncomfortable because I, like all of you, have real obligations to meet. But it is all part of that evolutionary process of discovering and becomingmore of who I am by listening to and believing that inner voice that is my soul’s compass. It’s a process that can take a lifetime but as David Bowie said on his 50th birthday, “I don’t know where I’m going from here, but I promise it won’t be boring.”