May 16 – Having the courage to become who you were meant to be

“Success means having the courage, the determination, and the will to become the person you believe you were meant to be.” (George Sheehan)

I think the key to this quote comes in the last few words, “to become the person you believe you were meant to be.” If a person does not believe that they are becoming the person they truly want to be, then they cannot succeed. Their life will be a constant conflict between who they are becoming, and tho they believe they are meant to be.

I have seen this most often with college students, and recent graduates. A person will select a major based on test scores, or what their family believes they should be. They head down the path to become an engineer, or a lawyer, or some other profession because they want to chase the money, or fulfill someone else’s dream for them. All too often they end up not succeeding. Either they don’t finish the degree for which they set out, or they find themselves in a job they don’t like when they graduate. And this is when the courage comes into play. It takes courage to alter the course of your life when so much momentum has been gained.

My son was two years into a university engineering track. He had scored brilliantly on his college entrance exams, and wanted to emulate the steps of his older brother by choosing a similar course. He had the intelligence and aptitude to excel at engineering, and initially he did well. But soon his grades suffered, and his attendance at classes dropped. One weekend he came home and we had a long conversation where he told his mother and I that he had learned that he really disliked being an engineering student. It just wasn’t for him. He finished out that school year and spent the summer researching and reflecting on what he wanted to do. When the fall semester came around he had decided to head down an accounting and business track. Since then he has become very successful in his studies, and in his job. He now works for a large company that helps him finish his degree, and along the way he is gaining valuable experience and helping move the company forward.

We are very proud of him for his accomplishments, and I am even more proud of him for having the courage to step back, after two years of school, and say that he wanted to do something different. Taking an accounting / business track is very different from an engineering track, and it meant he would delay his graduation date. But by having the courage to make that choice, he has set himself on a path in life that brings him far more joy and fulfillment.

I can tell other stories of family and friends who changed their professional path because they realized they did not believe that they were becoming the person they were meant to be. One started as an engineer, and became a computer science professional. Another completed her teaching degree, but then went back to school to become a nurse practitioner, and is in her dream job. And the list goes on. All of them share in common that they are now happy in their career, after starting into something that brought them no joy. They all showed tremendous courage and determination to change that path, endure the questions that came from family and friends, and put themselves on the right course.

In my own life the change was more subtle and took longer. When I started out in college, I wanted to be in the Computer Science field. I dreamed of a dual degree between Computer Science and Physics, and thought I would become a research scientist in the field. I, too, was influenced by the guidance of teachers and family, and of my test scores. I managed to graduate from a university with a degree in Physics, and found a job in the Computer Science field.

I was over a decade into my job before I realized that I did not want to stay in a technical position for my entire career. I wanted to do something that gave me greater interactions with people. I searched and hunted for a job until I found one in Process Improvement. I spent 3 of the best years of my professional life in that position. I honed my project management skills, I facilitated large groups of people, and I helped teams make a real difference for our company. That change forever altered my professional path.

It was scary to take on that new position. I had always been in a technical position, solving issues, managing new technology, and improving our computing capabilities. Leaving behind that comfortable, but unfulfilling position meant that I had to learn all over again how to succeed. After a short time I realized I had made the right choice, as the tumblers fell into place to unlock my professional happiness.

Becoming the person you were meant to be isn’t easy. It’s not always easy to see who that person is, and when you discover that you are on a path that won’t get you there, it is difficult to change the course of your life. But, it is well worth it.

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