As a 24-year-old just starting out in the corporate world, I’m faced daily with my need to continue to learn. Startups, growth-hacking, self-improvement, entrepreneurship, life lessons — these are topics I read about each day. That’s not a bad thing! Continuing to learn seems like a vital component of success.
I’ve found myself reflecting on these topics repeatedly. For me, it all boils down to two little words. Two words that seem to be close in nature but are actually quite different in practice. Two words between which a balance must be struck. Two words which I’m still seeking to define.
What I’m discussing here is a struggle that surely crosses generational borders. But it seems to me that it is especially felt by those of us in our 20s. Since I am in that age group, it may just be a product of my perspective. Though I’ve only experienced four years of my 20s to this point, it seems like the prime moment in one’s life for the struggle between becoming and being.
Many of us went to college. Now, we’ve graduated and moved into the working world. We’re trying to find our way professionally while still figuring out who we are personally. We feel the need to put on a certain persona, but we’re not sure if that persona is our authentic self. There are deep longings hidden within the far reaches of our souls, but we aren’t sure if those are just passing dreams or transformational callings.
Some of us have gotten married or even started a family. Those personal joys bring with them even more changes. Through all of this, we are faced with a choice…
Are you going to focus on becoming who you want to be or on being who you are?
The Need for Action
I read an interesting post from James Altucher the other day (ALL his posts are interesting and thought-provoking). He talks about our constant need for action and how — sometimes — the best thing to do is stand back.
I resonate with this idea so much. I know it’s ludicrous for me, a 24 year-old marketer, to say this, but sometimes I feel like we’re too focused on action. Everything is go-go-go. We’ve got to be in love with the hustle and always on the grind. That’s the startup/entrepreneur/millennial life.
Now look, what I’m NOT talking about is laziness. We’re treading a fine line here. Obviously action is important. If you’re falling into complacency, there’s something wrong. If you just don’t want to put in the work, there’s something wrong. If you’re not willing to sacrifice at all, there’s something wrong.
But if you’re constantly on the go, I feel like there also might be something wrong.
What if the best use of your next 10 minutes is to sit quietly in thought? What if the inspiration for your next book will only come from sitting outside in the sun and watching the world go by? What if that action you’re considering isn’t the right move?
Again, I know what I’m supposed to say as a 20-something marketer. I’m supposed to say that I love the hustle. I’m supposed to be in a constant state of action. I’m supposed to be in the act of becoming.
I’m growing to love the hustle. Many times, I do find myself in the midst of a frenzy of action. And I’m definitely becoming someone.
But I keep wondering…what if the only way to become the person I want to be is to truly be the person I am today?
What if the only way to become the person I want to be is to truly be the person I am today?
When you’re in your 20s, you’re still figuring things out. You’re not an expert yet, and people don’t expect you to be. However, if you’re like me, you have big dreams and goals and aspirations. To get there, you can’t just sit still. You have to act. It’s just a fact of life.
People say, “You have your whole life ahead of you.” When I hear that, I think about my magnum opus. I think about the impact I want to have. I think about the goals I want to achieve. I’m driven to act.
Most of the time when people say things like that, it’s followed by something like “so don’t worry so much about that *fill in the blank task*.” We flippantly brush them aside and say they aren’t as motivated as we are.
But what if they’re a sage?
What if those of us in our 20s really do have our whole lives ahead of us? What if our crowning achievements will happen? What if we really will become the person we want to be?
Maybe that would free us up to simply live life.
The Act of Being
I think where we miss the mark is that we view the act of being as a passive endeavor when, in reality, it’s extremely active. To be yourself takes a lot of action. You have to spend a lot of time in reflection. If you’ve ever tried intentional reflection, you know it’s hard work. You also have to learn how to quiet your inner doubts and your external doubters.
I’ve written before about my transforming self-image. I think that’s a big aspect of being in your 20s. You’re experiencing new things and setting out on your life’s journey. Amid it all, you’re still learning who you really are. For goodness sake, I got engaged, went to the Super Bowl, graduated college, started my first big boy job, got married and went on a honeymoon all in one year! That’s a lot of deeply impactful life experience for 365 days. You’ll have to forgive me if I’m still processing it.
It makes me think of the character, Roger, from Rent. He wants to write one last song before he dies — a blaze of glory. He’s consumed with his work and, ultimately, his legacy. He wants to leave something behind. Mimi and others tell him that there is “no day but today” to live the life he’s been given — that he should live in the moment and just be. Later in the story, we find that Roger does write his song. But it only comes after he has explored his true feelings for Mimi and learned to live in his present situation.
What I’m coming to find out is that, while I may have big goals, dreams and aspirations, some of them will take years of work to realize. But I have time. And at the same time I don’t. The time that is currently passing can never be retrieved. If I spend too much energy focusing on the future, I’ll miss out on precious moments right in front of me.
But there’s the rub — if I never spend time focusing on action steps toward my future goals, will those goals and dreams be realized? Don’t I have to be acting and planning now for those dreams to come true?
I haven’t totally forsaken the commonly accepted mindset of the 20-something entrepreneurial spirit. I do think it’s important to take action steps toward your goals right now. Today.
But I’m finding that it may be even more important to step back. To make the most of where you are and enjoy who you are. Today. I want to believe that both can be true. That you can strike a balance between being and becoming. That there is a happy medium between action and pausing.
Listen to Your Life
Jeff Goins is one of my favorite authors. In his book, The Art of Work, Jeff talks about “listening to your life.” I think this is a powerful idea. He describes it in more detail in one of his blog posts. It’s this idea that there are common threads in the major events of our lives. If we stop and pay attention to them, we can find our hidden story and maybe even our life calling.
I believe very strongly in this — that the pangs of our soul can be traced throughout the journey of our life. Unfortunately, we often don’t take the time to notice these “common threads.” We get so busy with everyday life. That’s why I think it is so important to give ourselves time to simply be. To relish the person we are today. To reflect on who we were yesterday and see how all of that combines to create the person we’ll be tomorrow.
I believe those “common threads” are little signposts in our lives that God uses to nudge us toward our life calling. I believe He communicates with us about the deepest longings of our soul and the impact we want to have someday. But I’ve found that, many times, these communications come in the form of a still whisper. I need to slow down and listen to get the message right.
No matter your belief system, you will undoubtedly face the inner struggle between becoming and being. Whether you’re in your 20s or your 60s, you must find that balance between being yourself and taking steps towards becoming who you want to be. Just remember that by taking time to cherish the person you are today and listen to your life, you may find your future self.
As Mimi reminds us in Rent…
I can’t control
I trust my soul
My only goal is just