How to reach for the life you want

One of my least favorite questions is: “what do you want to be when you grow up?”. Why I dislike this question is that it implies that there is some end state to your growth. I am a believer of a “growth mindset” and think that we can and should want to grow throughout our lives. A better question to pose to yourself when you’re thinking of your life’s work is: “how do you want to add value to the world?” When you really start to unpack this question, it can provide you with your life’s mission.

For me, I decided in my early twenties that I wanted to be a successful business person that advocates and volunteers to equalize access to quality education. The framework I used and continue to use is: future me = who am I today + the new skills / knowledge I need (want) to acquire. Starting out the empty “box of new skills” to obtain, can feel a bit like a black box. However, with backward induction you can begin to identify gaps in your knowledge and skills. Even with the perfect plan this is what occurs on most journeys to the finish line:

Most good plans stem from a clearly defined problem; defining the problem puts you in an advantageous position to reach your goal. By backward induction, the process of looking at a desired outcome and figuring out viable paths from this outcome to your current state, you begin to chart your plan at a tactical level.

How did this process work for me? When I decided I wanted to be a successful business person — I researched various prominent business people and their backgrounds. I unearthed the areas that I was lacking and sought out an MBA as the most effective means for me, to achieve my desired short term goals. Could I have been in the same place without business school? Most likely if I already had a strong business network, but B-school for me was the right choice because of the quality and depth of the community I joined. I acquired more than a handful of lifelong friends and a ton of acquaintances as a result of my time at Wharton; it has made all the difference for me on this journey towards successful entrepreneurship and philanthropy.

In summary: Ask yourself how you want to impact the world or what is the legacy you want to leave. From this vantage point, work out the gaps in your skill set and find the optimal path for you to fill these gaps. I did not mention it before, but work hard at everything you do. Rarely does continued success fall into one’s lap without a strong work ethic. Really, just WORK HARD at your plan!

Written by tritecta member Stephanie Reaves, while lovingly supported by Xiran Ou & Michael Angelo DeCarlo.