As I start another year around the sun, I have been reflecting on my life and how I finally have gotten to a place where I am confident in who I am. Don’t get me wrong, there are days (especially over the last few months) where I flounder and question everything. But in general, I know who I am, who I want to be, and what is important to me. That wasn’t always the case, which I’m sure many of you can relate to at some point in your life. For some reason, it made me think of the scientific method. And how you could correlate your journey in life along a similar path as a scientific experiment. Go with me and see if you agree!
Collect information, Observe, Ask Questions. Throughout your childhood, you are a sponge. You are learning, observing, taking it all in. You don’t have any expectations or assumptions. Everything is new, you start to test boundaries, and you are learning to navigate your way through life. What you don’t realize at the time, is that all of the information is starting to create a hypothesis about who you think you want to be in this world and the life you are creating. I tended to be a rule follower, someone who liked things to be in organized packages, shy but outgoing when I thought I was supposed to be, and very caring about the people around me (loyal to the core!). While these have taken different forms over my life, these core values are part of my DNA to this day! I learned these traits by watching my family, starting to find role models outside of your inner circle, and learning through the rollercoaster of friendships.
Form a Hypothesis. As you go through high school, and even more so in college, you start to form an idea of what you want your life to be. You start making decisions that in theory impact the rest of your life (where do you want to go to school, what your major is going to be, even where you might live once you graduate). Even if college isn’t in your plans, you are making decisions that are leading to a career and a way of life that is going to be your foundation moving forward. You learn more about what you think is going to be important to you and how your skills and passions can combine to create a career path. More and more I loved working in theatre, specifically backstage. I cherished the sense of community with the crew and the chance to create an experience for people that was special every night. I was also meeting people from different areas of the country and learning from their experiences and seeing the value of getting outside of my comfort zone.
Experiment to test the Hypothesis. Looking back on it, I knew nothing in my late teens and early twenties. To think we expect people at that age to essentially pick a career (by choosing a major) is absurd. But it all works out because once you get out of your own, you start to test your life choices by getting your first full-time job and your first apartment. You are now living the life you think you want. You learn a lot during this time. Your values are tested, you meet more and more people with different thoughts and backgrounds, you see what it is really like to work in the industry you chose. It can be a trying time but also an incredible learning opportunity if you have the courage to recognize your hypothesis may not have been exactly correct. As much as I loved the world of theatre, I needed more stability and security once I was out on my own. I hated the lifestyle, which I could only learn once I was immersed in it after graduation. After doing a stint in LA, my husband and I also realized the importance of staying on the east coast, closer to our family and friends.
Expected Results versus Actual Results. Now that you have dipped your toe into the pool of real life, you start to identify where your assumptions were correct and where you were off base. You may have been spot on with everything you thought you wanted – and kudos to you if that’s the case! You could have been completely off like I was and find yourself on the wrong side of the country in an industry you don’t love. Most likely, you are somewhere in the middle. You are satisfied with some areas of your life and the choices you made. But there are places to tweak and things you have learned about yourself along the way that you want to apply as you continue this journey. Especially with every new generation, it seems like this reflection and willingness to adjust (versus staying on course) is encouraged and supported.
Draw Conclusions. It’s important to look at everything you have learned up to this point in your life and see where you want to make changes. Once I made the move to HR and got back on the east coast, I felt much more settled (in a good way). I love what I do and while we tried out a couple of different cities, when we moved to NYC, we knew we had found our home. The next step in my journey was finding ways to grow as an individual. I had learned a lot about myself during the experimental stages and I realized that outside of work, I was concerned about where I was “supposed” to be in my life, versus what I wanted in my life. I wasn’t eager to have kids (if ever), we found our place in the city (versus the ‘burbs), we love going to concerts and decorating our home with things that represent our passion for music and movies. And I wanted to push myself out of my comfort zone, specifically as I thought about being healthier. For my 40th birthday, I jumped out of a plane and did a Spartan Race. Both gave me a new sense of confidence I did not have before.
Adjust & Try Again. As you look at what you have learned during the experiment phases, what do you want to adjust as you move forward? Are you happy in your career? Are you satisfied with your personal relationships? Do you focus enough on your health (mental and physical)? How do you feel spiritually (doesn’t have to be religion, but could be meditation or a focus on something bigger than yourself)? How do you re-energize and refresh when you are stressed or need a break? If you haven’t seen it before, try the Wheel of Life exercise. It helps you evaluate your satisfaction in different areas of your life. When I looked at my wheel ahead of turning forty, I realized I was too focused on work and not satisfied in areas that included self-care, friends, and my health. Even in my career, I was learning more about where I wanted it to go and I was excited about starting to lay some breadcrumbs on the path to the future.
Accept the Hypothesis and Keep Experimenting. Even once you have “figured it all out” (PS you haven’t) that doesn’t mean you stop learning and growing. At different points in your life, different things will be important to you. You may want or need to focus more on family or work or your health. Or you may want to take your foot off the gas and just retreat and breathe for a while. All of that is ok. Even as happy as I am right now in my life, I’m always looking to challenge myself and expand my learning. I got a Peloton bike, I signed up for a half marathon, I started a podcast, and my husband and I are committed to taking time away just for us this year (whatever that looks like in 2020). The point is, even once you have accepted your hypothesis and you know the path you are on, don’t stop experimenting!
One important note, while I referenced ages at different times in this article, I truly believe you can have these discoveries at any point in your life. As I tell people on my podcast, it is never too late to learn and adapt! So no matter where you are in your life journey, take a moment to think about your hypothesis and what the data is telling you. Are you on the right path or do you need to keep experimenting?