At the Precipice of The Quarter-Life Crisis

I am almost 25. I graduated from university last year and since have been working for a whole year now. Yep, a real job making real money. And today, I just had my first career development meeting with my manager.

TDLR: I reveal how I’ve neglected investing more time in myself and beginning my first steps to setting better goals for myself.

To be completely honest… I’ve been putting off career development for pretty much my whole life. I am the daughter of a mighty Dragon Mother (let’s just say, I didn’t think the Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mom was all that bad) who was pretty much destined to be a doctor — no introspective reflection required.

In high school, I took the Asian six-pack, padded my application with extra curricular activities in addition to clocking over 18 hours of part-time work as a swim instructor. In other words, spending little time thinking about myself.

The Asian Six-Pack

Considering everything that you know about me right now… the university degree of choice is obvious — biomed. A nice straight path to career prestige and stability as a doctor.

University was the first time I strayed from my destined path because well, I was 18 and I just wasn’t ready! Obviously I chose to ignore every wise person’s advice that your university degree does not determine your future. I was determined not to lock my career down into science or business.

So…

I chose to study both! (strike one)

The next four years of my university life were spent both in labs understanding the fundamentals of biotechnology whilst regressing equations into trend-lines in economics. Postponing the inevitable decision-making/future planning/career development for another 5 years.

In fact I had a a great opportunity as a co-op student (a student who alternated work and study terms — hence 5 years of school, not 4) to really find out more about what I wanted to do after university.

I worked in a lab because every science student wants to work in a lab. I realized thatI don’t really like working in the lab. It actually made me vegetarian for a while and to this day I am still obsessive about food safety and hate eating leftovers.

I tried finance and realized I didn’t enjoy that either. Consulting was not my cup of tea. I also worked abroad — one of the best experiences of my life (I’ll expand in another post) but not one that defined much in my career aside from hopefully doing a job that involves lots of travel.

My last coop term was at a startup where I worked with some of the most amazing people doing stuff I actually like (marketing, for the record).

Then I graduated.

I knew that I was not going to be a doctor (strike two against personal development). If I were a fish — I’d imagine it’s like going from a fishbowl to ocean. A world of possibility and more terrifyingly, the unknown.

I was also heading into a job battle of other people that were similar to me:

  1. Equipped with a whole bunch of knowledge — very little that was practical in the workplace.
  2. Determinedly self-unaware, resulting caving into a lot of peer pressure to pursue “prestigious” jobs like consulting and investment banking. Then disappointing yourself when you don’t get those jobs.

I’ve been fortunate enough that my startup company had taken me back and given me the opportunity to grow and learn at something I really enjoy doing. But I continued to be oblivious to my development as a person and in my career (strike three if we’re still counting).

Here we are. Sat down by my manager (not a in a bad way) having a real discussion about goal setting and the future.

By now you’re probably thinking, now we’re getting to the good stuff, the real career development nuggets. And I’m going to warn you right now that this is just the beginning.

This post is the start in what may be a month-long, year-long, forever-long journey in self discovery and pursuit of happiness/fulfillment. The nuggets may not show up until a little later.

Goal Setting — the Better Way

My manager and I are taking a different spin on goal setting. None of the “I want to earn a quarter million becoming a VP marketing of a large enterprise company in 5 years” nonsense.

Instead we’re going to paint a picture. A rich, layered picture of the future. Think of it like looking at the future through a telescope — some part of it will be blurry, others will be clearer. Sometimes you’ll change the view and see different aspects of your life. But as long as you have that picture — you have a sense of direction and where you are going.

The View from the Telescope

1. Self-Awareness

Honestly… I have a lot of groundwork to cover. I like to think that I’m fairly self-aware but I’m not. So my first step in this goal setting journey is to learn a little more about myself.

For example,

  • A trend in my entire life has been that I enjoy things that are both creative and technical. Photography, cooking (that’s a new one), marketing, photoshop the list goes on. I think it’s because I love to learn things deeply, I want to understand every aspect of it. In doing so, I can optimize the creative outlet. It’s a bit like a box of legos. First I get the legos, learn about how they fit together and what shapes there are. Only then, only then can I build and create … anything. I’ll talk more about this intersection of creativity and technical learning in a later post.
  • I like to share what I’ve learned. That’s part of the reason why I’m a serial blogger (nail art blog, travel blog, food blog… now my own personal blog). In fact I was hired at the startup because of my nail art blog. I think it comes from a belief that we live in an age where you can learn anything. So why wouldn’t I help contribute to this body of knowledge?
  • I’m a believer in step two. To me, the most successful people are all believers of step two. What does that mean? It means that when someone gives you step one, you should think about what steps comes after, how you can do step one even better and prepare for step three. For example, in writing this post I thought about using images that would help provide breaks for the reader while adding value. At the same time, I plugged in posts that I wanted to write about in the future to help me commit to them. So it wasn’t just me writing a blog post. I wanted to write a great post which would also set me up for later.

That’s all I’ve got so far.

From here on out, I want to continue to expand on my thoughts, reflect and record the process that I’m going to use to develop the vision for my future.

Stay tuned for more!