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Leadership

"What Do I Want To Do When I Grow Up?" Is The Wrong Question To Ask

Feel stuck in your career and like you're sailing without a rudder? Could be because you're asking yourself the wrong questions.

And so my chapter on "What do I want to do when I grow up?" comes to a close.

This is a process that started in the first grade when I was programmed to begin thinking about the singular career path that I would take for the rest of my life. The assignment from my teacher was "simple": Write down what you want to do and draw a picture of it.

But it wasn't simple for me. I watched all the other boys and girls write down "teacher" and "firefighter" and "doctor." I watched them draw firetrucks and sailboats and planes.

But my page stayed blank.

I pondered whether to be an entrepreneur like my mom, a computer programmer like my babysitter's dad, or a doctor who saved people's lives. I sat and sat and sat, unable to decide. I never finished that assignment that day. In fact, it took me over 20 years to complete it.

When I graduated from college, I set out on a journey to figure out what I wanted to do with my life.

My unconventional career path took me to five major national and international cities. I stayed at jobs for as long as 18 months and as short as one month. I sold all of my belongings and moved cross-country because my intuition told me to. I worked with more than 15 different startups in one year of living in New York City. I started a blog to document my journey—both the learning and the mistakes. I started a website to document the stories of people boldly pursuing their life's work. I messed up two startups. I accidentally turned insomnia into a global movement. I met with tarot card readers, talked strategy with multimillion-dollar entrepreneurs, and helped a best-selling author launch a publishing company, all to see if I could answer the question I'd been wondering about since I was 5: What do I want to do when I grow up?

This journey was equally painful and empowering. It was messy and it was full of insight. I was criticized for being too whimsical and praised for taking bold risks. I had emotional breakdowns and experienced complete nirvana.

Most of all, I developed a new theory on work: I realized it's not about what I want to do with my life; it's about who I want to be.

When I look back on my experiences over the years, every single opportunity gave me exactly the lesson I needed to learn at the time. With every experience (and I had a lot of them in a short period of time!), I changed. I evolved. I was pushed way the hell outside my comfort zone. I was forced to face deep fears and insecurities.

As I evolved, something magical happened: I stopped focusing on the end goal—the perfect job, the one thing I wanted to do. I instead began focusing on taking care of myself and identifying the daily behaviors that make me feel healthy, fulfilled, and at my best. I discovered what it means to truly live and to enjoy living.

Slowly, the question "What do I want to do with my life?" shifted to "Who am I?," "How do I want to live my life?," and "What do I have to give?"

And, guess what happened? I finally discovered my life's work.

Through this shift, I learned that what moves me and resonates deeply is enabling others to overcome the fears and obstacles that hold them back from leading the life they're meant to lead. I discovered that everything inside of me lights up when I can help someone navigate a challenge so they make progress toward an inspired life. I learned that by openly sharing the truth of my journey—both the ups and the downs—I'm helping others take baby steps and bold leaps, too.

And so the chapter "What do I want to do?" comes to a close. And now, the chapter "Who I am" begins.

Amber Rae is Founder & CEO of The Bold Academy, a life accelerator designed to help you lead the life you were meant to lead. Applications for Bold Academy San Francisco are now open. For more on Amber, check out her blog or follow her on Twitter.

[Image: Flickr user Brittany Randolph]