I recently had a brief life journey conversation with an old friend in the way most modern folks do today – via a messaging platform.
It was unavoidable, not because of the pandemic, but because she lived clear across the world from me.
The conversation started because I saw on her social media profile she’d recently taken up a new job, and I wanted to find out why. It was a job that required her to leave the safe confines of academia which she’d been in for many years, and enter the frenetic pace of the private sector.
Given she’s my age, I know it’s no mean feat!
In fact, I dare say I should know more than most of my peers. For I made the same leap four years ago too. And after slogging it out in the big bad commercial world for 15 months, I “crashed and burnt”! If you would like to know more about that sad blip in my work history, you can read about it here.
[Just don’t judge me too harshly okay?]
But this friend of mine (let’s call her M) isn’t likely to suffer the same fate as me. For she’s a far tougher cookie!
Days in the dorm
I first got to know M during my second year in university. It was the year I decided to stay in one of the dormitories on campus, in hopes of making my varsity life more interesting and colourful.
In many ways it was, and one reason was M.
She was a final year business student then, while I had just moved into my junior year studying real estate and urban planning (don’t ask!).
Despite our different university pathways, we bonded easily. She was quick-witted and terribly smart and I found myself looking up to her like a big sister, though we were both the same age. She had an assured confidence about her and seemed to know what she wanted from life. Me? Well, let’s just say I was still floundering around in the dark!
Over cafeteria meals and in-person late night chats that’s the stuff of dorm life pre-handphone days, we talked about anything and everything. Usually with a few other fellow “new seniors” (those who joined dorms after at least one or more years in the uni). Along the way we had lots of fun and laughter that made the life journey then of mugging for assessments and exams that much easier to bear.
Looking back now, I remembered her as one of the most matured peers I had the privilege of knowing. She was not only business smart, she was also tech savvy and knew her future laid in a career that combines both skill sets. I secretly wished I was as clear-headed and decisive as she was about what I wanted out of life.
A true life-long learner
After M graduated (two years before I did), we stayed in touch and caught up when her schedules allowed.
I still remember gratefully when I encountered printing problems for my final year thesis, she offered to let me use her office printer. Back then such favours (and printers!) were hard to come by for an introverted me with few friends and limited means. So I was very fortunate to have her help.
At that time, M was also transitioning to a new career in broadcast journalism and her horizon looked like it was nothing but rainbow skies and sun-kissed shores.
Was I envious? For sure! But, I was also extremely happy for her. I couldn’t help but think how formidable this lady was. M had such clarity and drive in her and knew what she wanted. She also exuded a life-long learning attitude long before it was trendy to do so.
It was no surprise then that some years later, she found the love of her life, left our country to marry him and ended up pursuing postgraduate studies to become a university professor. Talk about a life journey! She was both molding young minds and setting new standards in curriculum design. All the while delving in areas like UX/UI , design thinking and data analytics. Again doing so long before anyone even heard of these tools of the modern digital age.
So I thought M was at the pinnacle. She was the crème de la crème. She had her hands on the Holy Grail.
Except it clearly wasn’t enough, going by her latest metamorphosis!
And so I had to find out what led her to take this new plunge to the vast unknown.
A “telescope” vs “microscope” life journey
Below was the text exchange M and I had a few days ago when I asked her why now, why the switch.
“I have a hunger I can’t explain. A need to learn new things and challenge myself. I’m also setting myself up for future consulting work well into my 60’s. I also do not plan to stop working till I’m 70. So there’s a lot of gas still left in the tank.”
I’m constantly amazed by people like yourself M. What drives you? What shapes your decisions that cause you to keep rushing from point to point like you’re after something?! I guess we’re all wired differently. As I age, I feel my world shrinking but within this smaller space actually lies deeper learning for me; deeper yearning for a life that’s not bells/whistles or fireworks, but the sum of many small parts. So if an analogy can be used here I feel like you’re looking at life through a telescope, and me a microscope! May we each bloom the way God made us.”
” “What drives me, you ask?” Hmmm… it’s the growth mindset. I want to constantly grow and challenge myself. I feel that God placed us on earth for a purpose. My purpose is to help others grow and thrive as well. Whether they are 20, 30, 60, 70 and so on. Growth doesn’t have to be career wise. Growth is about knowing yourself and your deeply held values and designing a life that’s rewarding and fulfilling. A great job is just one aspect of it. In some ways a good paying job affords you to pursue other interests that bring joy and meaning because you don’t have to worry about the bills.”
“You’re right, I do plan ahead and I re-evaluate it every five years. Am I growing or have I become stagnant? Am I still finding joy learning in this job or is it time to find the next challenge? That’s the advice I give to all my students. We’re living in an era of rapid change and disruptions. Will you take control or allow yourself to be swept along? It is not about the rat race. It is about being prepared and able to look ahead so you have choices and don’t feel stuck.
I guess your telescope analogy is appropriate. If you can’t see ahead of you, you will be caught by surprise.”
“I’m also an immigrant in this land. I have had to fight tooth and nail to survive. Any immigrant will tell you that they live with a chip on their shoulder. If you’ve sacrificed being with family and friends to chase your dreams on the other side of the world, you don’t settle for a life of being average. I’m not trying to boast or sound arrogant, but that’s the truth of what makes me tick.”
Which makes me think that, though completely opposite to her ‘telescope’ life journey, my ‘microscope’ one these past few years — as I introspect on this blog — is the truth of what makes ME tick!
What about you? Are you more “telescope”, like M? Or “microscope”, like me?