From another young person who has
Welcome to your youth — the age where you are told to explore and try different things as long as you end up choosing the ‘right thing’ to focus on. I’m not a planner. I haven’t been a planner since probably my third year of university when I started questioning that there was more than the popular or “correct” path of getting an internship in your penultimate year at a ‘big four’ (I studied commerce), getting a graduate job, buy a house in a “good” suburb and then take a vacation once a year during your annual leave for the rest of your life or until you retire. I remember the interview at my assessment centre for a ‘big four’ when I was asked the question “What are you hoping to get out of this internship?” I don’t remember what answer I gave but it wasn’t the honest answer of “I’m only here because this is what everyone around us tells us that we should be doing these vacations”. This was in 2014.
I slowly started to realize that there was more to life than simply doing what others are telling you. Whether it is your family, strangers, friends, or people on your social media or society in general. Most of the time, when it’s your family member or friends telling you what you should be doing- it’s with good intentions. I’m a second-generation Australian with a dad that came as a refugee after the Vietnam war and a mum that immigrated from China so of course understanding their context they wanted security and stability for their children. That was the message that I got growing up– focus on doing well in school, focus on getting a good job, focus on getting a good income. That’s the only important thing. I followed this path until I graduated from university in 2015. This was when my path started to look a little bit different from the cohort of my peers who also graduated with their commerce degrees in 2015. The fact that I didn’t prioritize attending my graduation ceremony but rather was in New Delhi, India working in sales through an internship program with aiesec already speaks for itself. Up until that point in my life, it was the most multi-cultural team that I had been part of. The people in the office were from Netherlands, Poland, Colombia, Germany, Benin & India and I thought this is the type of different experience that I want to live. When I came back from New Delhi, I didn’t start a graduate entry job at a multinational however rather continued to work for the not-for-profit of aiesec at its national office in Sydney, Australia. I thought I would be there for one year and then use that experience to go on and apply for a multi-national. The latter has still not happened- One year turned into seven and with each year my parents started believing less that it was just one more year before I go back to the ‘traditional path’ that they believed was more appropriate or respected. My life looks different to my peers that graduated university or even high school with me and despite my mum’s not subtle comparison — I don’t believe that they’ve achieved more than me, are more successful me, happier than me, or smarter than me, unless the only worth of a person is the money you have in your bank account and how many “important life milestones” you’ve ticked off by the “appropriate” deadline.
I told you, I’m not a planner. If you had asked 22-year-old me who had decided to take that one-year role in Sydney that you would end up staying in this organization until you’re 27 she would not have believed it. It was through that experience that I realized that one year was not enough and that there was more that I could do to grow and develop as a person. It led me to spend two years in Dhaka, Bangladesh working for the national office there, back to Sydney for another year, and then lastly to the global office in Montreal where I’m currently based. Looking back, the path I ended up taking is because of two questions that I first started asking myself in 2018 when I was figuring out what I wanted to do next — stay in Bangladesh for another year or go back to Australia.
1. What option in front of me excites and scares me at the same time?
2. Who would be the person I would be at the end of taking this decision? I would consider who I would become if I took option a or and who would I be if i took option b and then based on that which person am I prouder to be?
With these two questions guiding me, I’ve asked them to myself every year since, and then the answer is clear. It gives me certainty in the choices that I make without being distracted by the noise around me.
The secret question zero that you need to answer before getting to the questions above is this one- who are you? You can’t answer what scares you or excites you without knowing yourself. You can’t answer who you will become without first knowing who you are right now. Hello self-awareness — it is only through understanding yourself that you can realize what are the things that give you energy or take your energy, bring you joy, bring down your mood. All three of these questions are interconnected.
Responsibility, gratitude, and fun are my core values. They have played an integral role in the answers to my questions when I think about what scares me or what excites me. At the same time, they have also determined what it is that I want to grow and develop in for me to better fulfill my responsibilities both now and in the future. Therefore, it matters to me that I’m doing something meaningful, that I’m consistently being stretched, and that I’m able to grow. I enjoy the journey of getting better at something, I enjoy the journey of becoming a better person. It is important to me that I always choose growth over comfort.
I got to understand more about myself not just by journaling (which I’ve been doing consistently for 4 years now) however rather it was by getting out of my comfort zone. Hence my first question, if it scares me, it’s probably because it requires me to get out of my comfort zone. This is a good sign and shows I’m taking a step in the right direction. If you don’t want to grow, if you’re content or happy with where you are now then these would be the wrong questions to ask yourself — you should probably just keep doing what you’re doing but if you value growth, if you value new experiences, if you are intrigued by the possibility of looking back at each chapter in your life and realizing how much you’ve grown as a person then these questions are for you. If you’re not after easy, then these are the questions for you.
Every time you are starting to question if this is the right path for you then it is a good reminder for you to be able to pause and reflect on whether it is. Two things can happen as a result of this, maybe you just re-affirm for yourself that your values remain unchanged, and this is what you want to keep doing or perhaps you realize now you care about different things. At a certain point in my life, I thought that security, status, self-reliance, money, and being comfortable were important to me. These came from the way that I was raised and was influenced by what defined success for other people in my family. Now I’m at that point in my life where what is important for me are living new experiences, continuous growth, shared moments with other people, representation, diversity, and achieving something important with those who also care about the same thing as me. I didn’t come to these realizations by only putting pen to paper, or just by having a conversation with other people while reflecting on the “self-awareness” question. It happened through doing different things with different people.
As much as I enjoy spending time by myself — yes, I’m an introvert- we don’t go through life by ourselves. The person who I am today and the reason why these things are important for me are shaped by the people who I’ve shared my life with. We have all heard that we are the average of the 5 people we spend the most time with. Who are the 5 people that you spend the most time with? Are you happy with being the average of those 5 people? Do they represent the growth that you would like to see in yourself? Find people or reconnect with people who encourage you to do the things that align with the person you can become. Surround yourself with cheerleaders and challengers. Cheerleaders who encourage and tell you that you’re on the right path, you’re doing good, you “got this” — especially on the days that you feel lost or days when everything is hard and you’re questioning why you decided to get out of your comfort zone. Challengers who would push you a little bit more, give you the real feedback that is hard to swallow and don’t let you settle for anything less than your best.
Choosing growth over easy is something that I live by every single day — the way that I approach my day, the way that I approach my work, the way that I choose to prioritize, and the way that I look at problems or opportunities. These questions have led me to keep choosing to stay in aiesec (the world’s largest youth-led organization) each year because it is the platform that I need at this point in my life to be able to develop myself while contributing toward something that matters. What is the ‘right’ path for you?
How are your decisions shaping the person you would want to be tomorrow, in one year, or even five years from now? Not being a planner in the traditional sense doesn’t mean that I’m not conscious of the choices that I’m choosing to make on a day-to-day basis. Every decision you make, every action you take is casting a vote into the person that you would want to become. Only you can answer whether you’re proud of the person you are becoming. Let that guide you with whether you are taking the right path for yourself. Not what other people are telling you.70