Taking The Long Road To Success

Why Teenagers Might Know More About Success Than You Realize

“Chase your passion, not your pension.” ~Denis Waitley
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As I reflect on 2015, what the new year has in store for me, and setting short and long term goals I am taken back to the beginning. That is, the beginning of what would be a long road to finding myself and my purpose. I have come to realize we each have our individual experiences in seeking success and what “success” means to each of us; however, I also realize many of us have conformed to what society has convinced us to believe we should do in our lives and so many of us share similar stories with regards to our journey through life.

“Society’s” view of success is, of course, to go to college, meet your future spouse, find a great job with good benefits, get married, buy a house, have children (preferably in this order), retire around the age of 60, and thus live the “American Dream”. For most people this plan society has foisted upon each of us is perfectly acceptable as long as they have time to decompress at the end of the day and a few extra bucks for a nice, albeit likely a conservative, vacation once in a while. Many people follow this template their entire lives without thinking twice about it and being content along the way. But for many others, such as me, it was not enough. Success encompasses many things for me but, at its root, it means fulfillment.

It all started roughly in tenth grade. Up until then my life seemed to be moving in slow motion, as if my future was merely an abstract concept and not a fact and I had mediocre grades to show for it. Although I had taken some classes with the knowledge I would, one day, go to college, I really didn’t take them very seriously. That changed in tenth grade when I realized I only had a short three years left before “my future” and I needed some sort of plan.

Fortunately I came from an educated family. Two of my brothers were engineers and my dad had engineering aspirations - he was on the road to becoming an engineer until illness at a young age and the beginning of a fairly large family foiled that goal. Still, he was in an engineering technology field so I was pushed quite heavily to go into engineering.

As with many well-meaning parents and siblings the main driving force was the money. Even twenty plus years later chemical engineering remains a profession with one of the highest starting salaries. Ultimately I decided on chemical engineering because I eventually developed quite a liking to chemistry in high school, thanks to a really great teacher. My seventeen-year-old mind figured this was all I needed to determine what I would do the rest of my life: A suggestion from family members and my favorite subject in school.

Of course my life did not only consist of school. I loved to sing, write songs, read, write poetry, and play piano. I was able to play piano by ear and truly enjoyed teaching myself songs, sometimes even complicated songs. I also enjoyed drawing. I was not very good at drawing people but I had a good eye for three-dimensional structures, which might have been one justification for going into engineering.

These are the things I would do in my “spare time.” Coming from what many people would consider a “nerdy” family I was never really encouraged to get into sports, plus I was never good at them anyway. To be honest, I was never really encouraged to do anything, it was just an unspoken requirement that I would go to college, pay my own way, and be self sufficient. I really don’t mind that I wasn’t encouraged to do anything and was given freedom over my time. Perhaps if I had close friends who were into sports or other activities I might have gotten into it as well but, alas, I usually would write my poetry and songs, play piano, etc. “for fun.”

The lessons of life and discovering myself over the course of eighteen years obviously helped to shape who I am today, which might be the topic of a future book, but suffice it to say I have done my best to use those lessons for improvement. Fast-forward to where I am now and I am finally realizing why I could never quite derive true joy from my various engineering positions at what is considered a “prestigious” national laboratory. This is not to say the pay wasn’t good. It was much better than most people make. It is also not to say I hated my job or wasn’t challenged because there were many things about my job I truly liked. The missing piece was the excitement of getting up in the morning and going to work. There was a huge void, in fact a gaping hole, right in the center of my job, which was essentially my life considering all the time we spend at work.

The reality of my dissatisfaction finally hit me when I considered how many Mondays I would take off work. Like most people I dreaded Mondays but it got to the point where I made sure I had enough vacation time and sick days for “mental health” Mondays. This is when I knew something had to give and I really began trying to figure out what was missing. What I determined was a huge lack of passion for my job.

I would reflect on the many years of work and various positions and years of study to obtain a master’s degree and whatnot and I realized I had no real idea of what was my passion. I had developed interests in certain things over the years, such as natural health and healing, fitness, cooking good food, and even self-improvement. I started a business a few years ago with the idea of compiling the information I had accumulated for home business creation and sharing it to the masses. I even wrote an e-book, created an affiliate program, and began creating video seminars. At some point “life” got in the way and I put it on hold but never went back to it.

Although there were times when I would think about getting it going again I just could never bring myself to do it. I just didn’t have the motivation. It was a great idea and I had all the information necessary but it was a non-starter simply because I didn’t have a passion for it. I’ve had several ideas for businesses based on certain interests I have acquired but, again, there never seems to be enough motivation to see them through.

Finally, after years of soul searching, following numerous motivational speakers, buying and reading books on success, and trying - and quitting - various projects, I found myself back at the beginning. Although I always knew I wanted to write it never occurred to me that writing might be my true passion. It has been quite a while since I have written anything creative as I used to do back in high school, mainly because I have “grown up,” if that makes sense. My fairly innocent mind, at the age of 15, 16, 17, and even 18, was able to find inspiration in many things. It was also moldable and had not yet been, dare I say it, corrupted, by so many thoughts and ideas over the years. The influence of left brain focus that comes with engineering is not lost on me as I contemplate getting back into creative writing.

Some day I intend on exploring songwriting and poetry but for now I am grateful to have discovered my passion for writing again. For years I criticized my 17-year-old self for not being smart enough to seek a career in what she loved doing the most. I’ve found myself saying, numerous times and to many people when recounting my lack of passion for engineering, “What does a 17-year-old know about what she wants to do for the rest of her life?” Isn’t it ironic how, after all these years and coming full circle, my 17-year-old self actually knew exactly what she wanted to do for the rest of her life? Isn’t it ironic how my 17-year-old actually had the answers I have been seeking for years? She just never was encouraged to explore her passions and instead she jumped on the fast track to conformity. She chased a pension instead of a passion.

If you find yourself feeling unfulfilled and as though “something is missing,” consider having a conversation with your 17-year-old self and ask him what he loved doing. Many of us allowed life and conformity to cloud our innocent teenage dreams and we have all but forgotten what we used to truly enjoy doing. These days opportunities are in abundance, all one really needs is a passion. Instead of “finding” your passion, seek the wisdom of the teenager in you, chances are he has the answers. Even if you have no plans of changing jobs or starting your own business, seek the unadulterated advice of your teenage self and run with it! Who knows? Maybe you’ll pick up a hobby that might change your life!