“It is better to have tried and failed than to have never tried at all“1
It was while driving around Bali, one of the most mystic islands I have ever visited, when all these pressing questions came to my mind: What do I want to do?, where do I want to be?, how do I get there?, who and what do I need to get there?, when should I get there?. These queries sounded so common in the business projects I was leading, but now they were actually referring to my personal life.
I have worked hard and achieved many significant things in my life. Had my goals in life and aspirations evolved? It became clear to me that I now had new ideas and dreams. I wondered how two successful leaders I very much look up to, just stopped everything and went sailing around the world. Just one day, they woke up to follow their big dream and decided to have the wind at their stern! I asked myself, whether I should plan my new life projects, perhaps in the same exhaustive way I had handled complex and successful assignments in my job. I wanted to accomplish many other things now.
When I came back from that trip, I noticed that my ears were very attentive to the dreams and associated problems of people around me: “I wish I could travel more”, “when I retire, I will take my backpack to volunteer in Africa”, “could I support my family with what I really want to do?”, “when this is over, I’m going to do this or that”. I wondered why, if people have all these urges to fulfill all these dreams, projects or needs, don’t they do it now, instead of waiting until “retirement” or postponing them for sometime later in life?
I started writing on a small piece of paper, a number of very important accomplishments I wanted to achieve in my life. Two of them were of very high priority! I tested my preliminary plans with friends and family members. Some of their first reaction were; “that’s impossible!”, “money doesn’t come very easy, you know?”, “are you going to stop your career?”, “are you crazy?”, “how will you manage that life switch?”. It was then that my search started for real. Apart from confirming that indeed I am crazy, I learned that those were not just the first challenges.
My intention for this article is to write down, how I decided I didn’t want to wait for some time in the distance future and how I achieved the purpose in my life I was yearning for. Life has clearly shown me lately that it is not that invulnerable and durable; procrastination has never been a good option, at least for me, much less for any of the projects I have worked on. I do hope this helps you to identify or plan what you would love to do in life, whether it is a short, medium, long term future, pursue something you truly want; I tell you, you can do it! I would also like to point out the challenges, the uncertainty and the struggles all this brings and how I have learned to deal with them.
The two things I yearned for right away were the desire to be full time with my family and have full control over my schedule. Only imagining this, felt incredible!
We can discuss many topics at this point; chief among which is whether my choice sounds sad or disappointing, having to change “the status quo” especially if it is successful. Some of you probably think that I just needed “time out or pursue a less competitive career track so that I could spend more time with my family”2. I recently read a very thought provoking comment in an article from Anne Marie Slaughter2: “Having control over your schedule is the only way that women who want to have a career and a family can make it work”; instead, I am only concentrating here on what I truly wanted to do and how I have managed to pursue that.
I do hope my closest compatriots don’t get mad at me for the following statement; planning and saving are two practices that are not truly embedded in the South American culture. I maybe absolutely wrong but for me this was the beginning; planning and saving much more rigorously than I have ever learnt. I started to thoroughly plan my life around my new goals for the next few years.
These are some of the main steps I followed to get where I am today and where I want to be in the near future.
- Think about and write down things you want to do. Start with a large list if you like, but then prioritise. Pick the top ones you can’t die without doing. Act fast!
- Think hard about when you want to have achieved your goal and check whether it is realistic to achieve it by then. Put hard dead lines on yourself.
- Discuss your plans early with your loved ones. They are the ones you will have to convince most and it will surely take a long time. Best to start early!
- Find a catalyst of some kind, do what you are intending to achieve in small quantities, test your plan with others; seek advice from friends or people who may have done what you intend to do, ask for their experiences, get inspired!
- Think about what is needed for you to achieve your main goal. Divide your plan and deadlines in small milestones. Apply hard deadlines on these milestones as well.
- Think whether you need or want somebody to help you to achieve what you want. It is important to surround yourself with positive energy and positive thinkers. Talk to your friends, mentors; test ideas and innovative ways with them and with people that are either important to you or those who have performed or accomplished something similar.
- Save, save and save! Anything we try to achieve today requires some funds. It doesn’t matter how small the amount that can be saved; with time, the saving culture is nurtured and that little amount will grow large enough!
- Plan for worst-case scenarios; know and feel the risks, visualize them, think and try to live those; they will come for sure; plan exhaustively and accordingly for mitigations.
I am currently living the new life I had planned and wanted so dearly; I left a good company, no doubts; perhaps a promising career, definitely admirable colleagues and friends, plenty of learning challenges and a continuous exploring and exciting life abroad!
Instead I now have enough time for a significant level of communication with my family, I wake up with kids, I do homework with them almost every day, I am constantly exercising, I drink coffee when and where I want to, I am spending time learning new skills especially with regards to writing, I am taking risks, I feel much more creative than before; I see my life and my “career” in a very different perspective. I am also trying to pursue the next items in my list. I am living what my mentor and friend once dearly shared with me: “I am living life on my own terms, it is a simple life but I’m the master of my own destiny now”.
I wish you the best with your plans in the future!
1Misquote from Alfred Lord Tennyson’s poem in Memoriam:27, 1850
2Anne-Marie Slaughter is the Bert G. Kerstetter ’66 University Professor of Politics and International Affairs at Princeton University. She was previously the director of policy planning for the U.S. State Department and dean of Princeton’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs.