Recently a lovely friend of mine turned 30. She reached out to me with the following question: What are the three things that looking back at your life, you wish you knew when you were 30? I was very grateful for her question. It allowed me to reflect upon my life, or rather my values in life, I guess and feel happy. This is what I wrote to her (though I have allowed some edits):
You are going through another ‘rite of passage’, an important moment to embrace, stand still and reflect.
The three things I wish I had known when I was 30 are framed by three Ps (though I have allowed a fourth, but that one is combined with the third):
- Paths are not linear,
- Be guided by purpose and
- Follow your passion … with patience.
I realise that I have often acted according to ‘my’ three Ps, but I think I acted upon them intuitively. I can now (cognitively) articulate them, thanks to your invitation to do so. They are interlinked (as with everything in life). It is obviously relatively easy to have ‘benefit of hindsight’.
Paths: one tends to want to plan. And some planning is obviously wise. However, it is very important to be sensitive to the ever-evolving world around you, which will stimulate you to make different choices than you had intended, maybe. In business schools and universities one gets taught to set goals and plan your life. Yet, we can only do this to a certain end, because life evolves and circumstances change. This actually means there are no wrong choices. If you decided to turn left to then turn right might have been the right way all along, as it will have given you insight to new turnings and learning. This belief is both applicable to work as to life/love.
As part of your non-linear path, we seek friendship, fulfilment, happiness, love, etc. I have at times felt anxiety when I wanted something very badly. This would occur more on the private than the work front, actually. However, over the last years I have learned to live ‘in the now’ and see where my path will take me. When I was separated for a while, I so wanted to have love and happiness. I realised that Buddhism teaches us the right thing: ‘there is no way to happiness, happiness is the way’. Initially I so craved to truly feel that approach, but could not. It was just a sheer statement for me, but over time, through embracing both joy and sorrow, I started to feel it. I also realised that being unhappy ought to be as much part of our lives as happiness (and with thanks to Alain de Botton for that insight).
Purpose: to be driving by a higher purpose is more fulfilling than any bonus, any new dress or car can bring you. In our profession we are lucky, as we actually are very close to purpose, cause we need to deal/communicate with so many different stakeholders. This dynamic ‘forces’ (or maybe I should say ‘invites’) us to act purposefully. Purpose is where morality and values come into being. It occurs differently for different people, which is great because we should thrive on our diversity. It is important to listen to ones ‘inner soul’ when taking important decisions. In my experience, however, when in doubt the inner voice does not lie.
Passion & patience: don’t over think, and follow your gut. I have made work and love decisions based on my brain, and that was not always wise. When I turned 45 (and I decided to change certain key elements in my life), I took one vital decision to no longer only decide with my head, but to follow my heart a bit more. I was brought up with ratio and not enough emotion. Nowadays I can (though not always) conduct a fluid dance between my head, my heart and my gut.
Sometimes you tell yourself (through those voices in your head) what you need to do and yet at the same time your gut tells you something totally different. It is a fine balance: to keep on moving from one gut/passion driven decision to the next can be somewhat disruptive. That is why I realise the combination of passion with patience makes for good choices. Together they will serve you well.