I spent many years trying to figure out what I want to be when I grow up.  There have been so many iterations of me that I can’t even keep track any more.   But, with the help of my former and brilliant therapist and what I thought of as a silly book (really, is there truly such a thing?) I found myself, who I was professionally and what I truly love about the things that I am really good at.

I think it would be fair to say that we would all like to find that perfect center point of what we love and what we are good at and what can provide us with a living that enables us to live the lifestyle we desire whether that is living in a mansion and driving a ferari or surfing the beaches of the world or living off the grid in Alaska.  None of those, of course, are my desired lifestyle and probably not yours either.  But, it is very important to know what your desired lifestyle is because it is key to finding that perfect center point.

One day during a therapy session we were discussing what comes next.  I had spent years doing what I liked to call slaying dragons.  Wow, I had a lot of crap and ghosts and demons to deal with.  But taking the time to do that work was by far the best thing I ever did for myself.  The result, however, was a sort of blank slate, wondrous and terrifying all at the same time.  So now what?

My therapist recommended the book “What Color is Your Parachute?“.  I laughed out loud – really.  What did she think I was, graduating from high school or picking a major?  Ok Mom.  Ha!

But she insisted that I take a look, she said that she had used it to make her mid career course correction and that it may really help me, and that it certainly did.  This book is awesome and provided me with a perspective I would never of even been capable of seeing as a teenager or young person.  It takes a certain level of maturity to really look at yourself objectively through the eyes of someone with the life experience to understand who they really are.

Now, I will admit, I did not complete the entire set of exercises.  Wow, it is really in depth, but I did complete a good chunk and certainly enough for me to get a good look and some ideas about where to go from here, which was the entire point after all.  From there, the ideas really just fell out of my head.  I couldn’t stop them.  Focusing the chaos in my brain has always been a major challenge for me so you can only imagine what this was like.  But, in the end, one glaring word would not leave me alone and I am super excited to actually, finally after all these years get moving on this adventure.  In the end I am a writer.

So how did I get there?

The book asks you to look back at all the things you have done in your life and think about what you really loved about each thing and what you were really good at.  It was fascinating because the same thing kept popping out again and again no matter what the context.  I liked to be given a problem or question, or even come up with one of my own, and then figure it out, research it, and come back to present the solution or my opinion of what the solution or answer or whatever is.  This is something I had found myself really liking about all the things I had done in my life from the activities of my childhood to school and college to menial jobs I had had to the career job I had chosen to the role I play in my volunteer and parent communities.  I like to help people learn about things, I like to solve problems and figure things out, analyze them and see why things are they way they are and what would might be a better direction if there is one.

Oh,  and I like to learn.  I love to learn, about everything.  I have to be the most curious person I know and I bet that the people who know me best and love me most would agree because I am constantly bugging them with questions or rambling on and on about something random I have been thinking about, things most of them would never have thought to think about.  It is not a rare occasion for these same loved ones to roll there eyes or sigh at whatever I am chewing on today.

Growing up I remember my mom filling the shelves with encyclopedias, dictionaries and all those every answer to every question ever asked books.  Gotta give her credit, she taught me how to research early.  “I don’t know honey, why don’t you go look that up” was her stock answer to my millions of questions.  The internet was the best thing that ever happened to me.  Too bad it was too late to help my mom out while I was growing up.

And, because my writing prompt task for the day is to tell you all something I would rather people not know about me or am embarrassed to say out loud, I will tell you the real kicker.  I love to be seen as the smart one and the one who knows stuff.  My dream would be to be seen as an expert or scholar or deep thinker, someone who can envision ideas and solutions to the problems of the world.  Of course, I have yet figured out how to focus or corral my brain enough to make any serious progress toward that goal.  Structure is not my strength, lets say. Yet, I am quite confident in my intellectual capabilities and also am plenty self aware about my many limitations both mentally and emotionally, but I get an amazing amount of fulfillment in other people seeing me as someone they can turn to, both for information and solutions as well as support and comfort, because for those people that can put up with my crazy and my constant ramblings about meaningless nuggets stuck in my craw, I am fiercely loyal and would move heaven and earth for them.  There, assignment complete now stop judging me.  LOL!

I always joke that if I could go back and do it again I would go straight through and get my PhD so that I could be a professor.  The university campus is one of my most favorite places on earth.  I just soak it all up and my heart sings.  But, the hard truth is that I have never been able to narrow down what I want to learn and teach about.  There is never anything that specific that speaks to me.

So immediately as I was writing this and back when I was working my way through the parachute book, I thought teacher was the obvious choice.  I will focus myself and pick a topic and teach about it.  Perfect!  But, we haven’t looked at the lifestyle side of things yet.

This is why an aptitude test or simply following your “dream” isn’t enough.  You have to look at the whole picture.  What do you want your life to look like, day in and day out.  What lifestyle do you want to live.  Do you want luxurious things, do you want to travel the world, do you want to have dirty hands and work outside, do you want to be alone most of the time, do you want to be interacting with others most of the time, do you like people, are you tolerant, patient, ambitious, selfless, do you like to drive, do you want to work in an office or would you rather be outside or out and about in the world.  These are difficult and complicated questions and something you really must think all the way through.  Take a moment and think about five and ten and fifteen years from now.  It’s 10:30 AM.  What do you want to be doing?  It is 2:00 PM what do you want to be doing?  Walk through your ideal day. What does it look like?

I found, for myself that going to an office or workplace a certain number of hours a day did not ever play into that picture.  I want my day to be filled with challenging work and intellectual stimulation but certainly not an office building and being forced to be outside all the time isn’t really my thing either.  I want to structure my day the way that works for me and that is flexible enough to absorb all the ups and downs of the day.  I want to be there for all parts of my kids lives and still have something for myself, but for me that something for myself does not have to take the front seat.  I don’t need that in the same way that others do.  Flexibility is the key word in my ideal lifestyle.   I like to do things on my own terms and in my own time with the flexibility to handle all life’s responsibilities and tasks in a way that keeps me sane.  As an introvert, I have to be aware to make space for quiet and solitude and also make time for connection else risk isolation.

Doesn’t everyone want to  do whatever they want on their own terms, you may say? Exactly, but that certainly doesn’t look the same for everyone, even everyone with the same assets and talents.

My husband, for example, if asked what an ideal day looks like, he would tell you walking a beach or sitting on a lanai with a glass of wine or hiking a trail, all in hawaii, his favorite place on earth.  But, would he want to live there and do that day in and day out?  No,  not at all.  He loves his corporate gig.  He loves being a part of that community, takes pride in telling people where he works, gets a lot of fulfillment out of also being the one people can turn to, but for him it is all about getting things done.  He loves to check things off the list, get the work done.  He loves the hustle and bustle and as much as he loathes it sometimes, he even likes the stress that comes with the amount of responsibility he has.  Though it weighs on him, it also lifts him up when someone acknowledges he is doing a good job or he solves a problem for someone and when people see him as a leader in his job.  Although we have very similar assets and intellectual desires, our lifestyle choices are very different.

Luckily as with most things in our lives we balance each other here as well.  We relate to one another, can help one another and always have lots of things to talk about and debate and love to sit and plan and come up with solutions together.  His lifestyle choice and successes have also made it possible and easy for me to make my own lifestyle choice and for that I am very grateful.  Don’t think that I don’t know how choosing your lifestyle isn’t a short term option for everyone, believe me I have been there, but I would argue that anyone can work toward a goal of a long term lifestyle choice.  Only you control your future.  Don’t like where you are then take a step to change it, even just a small one can make a profound difference.

Here, buy this book.  It’s a start.

What Color is Your Parachute?

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