Tag: life

Xander’s (Post-College) Life – Year 1

“They can’t make any decisions, because they don’t know what they want, and they don’t know what they want because they don’t know who they are…”
-Kate Carraway, on the Quarterlife Crisis (http://www.eyeweekly.com/print/article/55882)
It’s been a long time since I’ve sat here like this, armed with a few reflective thoughts and a burning drive to get them out on electronic paper. It’s been months, maybe even years, since I felt like I do now. As the Starcraft marine put it in the SC2 trailer a year ago, “Damn… it’s about time…”
Nearly five years ago, I had been diligently writing in my Xanga about my experiences as a new college student (http://skyrien.xanga.com/home.aspx?user=Skyrien&nextdate=8%2f30%2f2004+23%3a59%3a59.999); I wrote about my expectations, the challenges, the joys, and the inevitable pains as I explored the social, academic, and miscellaneous elements that made up the college experience. It’s a joy reading it again, and a pleasure knowing that even then, I had the passion and drive realize a particular story of my life–that of the un-regretful life learner. Clearly, I didn’t end college without mistakes, but perhaps I could live without regrets, knowing that the best is, as always, yet to come.
And now, here I am again; where I was 19 then, now I’m 24–a little older, and who knows, maybe even a little wiser, and better able to reflect on what I’m trying to do with my life, and where I’m going. Thankfully, I don’t think I’m facing a crisis right now; as my freshman year at Microsoft dwindles to a close, I feel I’m in a good place with my career start. My greatest unknowns at this point are not my short-term career situation (thank God for that) but rather the two-to-five-year plan. Whereas in undergrad, the four years made sense; broken down into neat measurable chunks called semesters (or quarters), where you could frame distinct goals for yourself, be it GPA, a job, or some other personal goal, in the career world, things aren’t nearly as distinct, and goals are completely personal. As my fellow career-following brothers and sisters know, it’s not so easy to measure your progress, and three weeks of vacation is hardly enough time to reflect. There are no checkpoints or goals than those you set completely on your own.
I read a good book in college that taught me: “Never confuse your career with your life,” and I’ve lived with that mantra for several years. It doesn’t mean that career isn’t important; in fact, I took it to mean that your career should be focused and be what enables you to live a good life (and not the other way around). So, while I spent time building my skills and proficiencies for work, I’ve also been balancing it out with personal development in the form of hobbies, idle-time, friends, and meaningful relationships. And while I sometimes envy those that know exactly what they want from life and have never questioned the way of things, I still hope that by debating to death every major path and choice in life, I will gain a stronger sense of perspective on the path I end up taking.
    “Do I stay in neuroscience, or should I jump ship to engineering?”
    “Is the University of Illinois going to give me what I want out of my undergraduate experience?”
    “Chicago, or Seattle; Microsoft or Accenture?”
These are all questions that I’ve grappled with over the four years of college, and have ended with a swift decision; none of which have led to any lasting regrets. I spent the first year here, intending to explore what this young-adult, post-college corporate work lifestyle had to offer. Yet now, as I look towards the second year at MSFT, with a half-dozen hobbies, and just as many groups of friends, I wonder how all of this fits into where it will take me over the next few years.
Sad as it may be, watching Transformers tonight made me realize that I have this immense internal drive to DO something meaningful, save the world, impact people, and have a Michael Bay-isque rollercoaster ride of a life while I fight to get there. But drive alone takes you nowhere, and as Kate mentioned in her entry, before you can do something with your life, you have to know what you want… and that means knowing yourself. She also mentioned that there’s a lot going on out there in the world, and now, with Facebook, Twitter follower counts, Technorati numbers, or Virology scores, there are evermore ways to judge your own odds for the kind of success you dream for. Fear of mediocrity looms large in our young-adult minds. But rather than feeling inadequate in the face of greater success by those around us toting 4.0s, or 20%s, or followers in the tens of thousands, why not let it serve as a reminder that there’s much work to be done? For even the greatest individuals had to start somewhere.
I’ve always become a fan for people that know themselves and derive true satisfaction from the passion of what they do. Even if they struggle in finding their place in the economy, in their industry, their life plan, or even in their own minds, I love speaking with anyone that has a burning desire to live a meaningful life. Maybe it’s just the bittersweet idealist in me, but I always think it’s better to hope and lose, than never to have hopes at all. One’s a story worth telling, the other… that’s just lame.
Anyway, enough of my disjointed post-movie watching ramble; here’s to yet another beginning! Where I’ll be in four years time, I can hardly guess. Let’s just say that I am absolutely dedicated to making it something I’m proud of.
All right now, enough of that reflective idealistic crap, time to jump into reality. On to Xander’s Life, Chapter 1.

What are you afraid of *not* achieving?

I attended an awesome Microsoft Research Visiting Speaker session with Keith Ferrazzi last week. Keith Ferrazzi is, of course, the youngest partner in Deloitte Consulting’s history, now-CEO of Ferrazzi Greenlight, and the author of the New York Times Bestseller, Never Eat Alone. The book speaks of the importance of building real relationships based on emotional connections and mutual trust, to success in business and life. I haven’t read the book, but I had heard plenty about it from various sources, so I knew Ferrazzi himself would have something interesting to say, the way bestselling authors usually do, so I took a break during the middle of the day and checked it out.

The topic of the talk was called “Who’s got your back?” loosely related to another book of his of the same name. Here’s the summary from the book cover itself:

Disregard the myth of the lone professional “superman” and the rest of our culture’s go-it alone mentality. The real path to success in your career and in your personal life is through creating an inner circle of “lifeline relationships” – deep, close relationships with a few key trusted individuals who will offer the encouragement, feedback, and generous mutual support that every one of us needs to reach our full potential. Whether your dream is to lead a company, be a top producer in your field, overcome the self-destructive habits that hold you back, lose weight or make a difference in the larger world, Who’s Got Your Back will give you the roadmap you’ve been looking for to achieve the success you deserve.

The first thing that struck me was how true the above was. It seems obvious that networking is critical to professional success, everyone needs friends, and proper people skills are often the greatest barrier to massive riches. Sure, everyone understands that, but so often, it’s from the practical perspective of, “how do I use this relationship to my advantage”, or “what can I get out of this relationship”; in other words, a purely business, or tactical relationship–like a game of Risk, (or Monopoly, as I recently realized), where you form a relationship so long as it is to your personal advantage. As sad as it is, it’s often accepted as the stressful, impersonal reality of corporate life…

Or is it really? These views of the social cynic trying to climb the corporate America ladder haven’t impressed me much–mostly because I believe that all relationships, even those formed in industry are personal, and will have impact far longer than you might understand. Keith corroborated that line of thinking by asking us to think of three people that’s “got our backs”. These are three people, friends, coworkers, family, whom you trust to have your best interests in mind, and are committed to your personal and professional success. And these aren’t just the occasional mentor, or career coach (although they certainly can be)–these are three people that understand you, your dreams, and are bold enough to push/prod and challenge you when you need it. If you didn’t have three people, you’d better have a way in mind to build those critical life relationships.

Do you have three people?

When I tried to name my three in my head, a lot of names and faces bubbled up. People I’d grown up with, my parents, old mentors, pastors, friends… but *very* few actually stuck as people whom I was truly open with, and shared my dreams, hopes, fears, and ultimately people that understood me enough to help me make purpose of my life. And this isn’t to say that I’ve false-friends; rather, that I haven’t been entirely honest around the people closest to me; that even amongst my closest friends, I’ve structured a façade to build an image for myself which I would try to live up to. Holden might have called me a phony.

In any case, that question made me rethink of what my role was in ensuring my own success. I think the best advice I could glean from that was… “keep it real”.

The second question he asked was a derivative of a common childhood question about life, also frequently used as an interview question. The original was boring, but his made me think:

“What are you afraid that you won’t achieve in your life?”

All too often, I try to answer the reverse question: “What do I want to achieve?”. It’s a great question; it gets you to think with life as a blank slate, and find possibilities to get from A to B. It makes you bubble up all the idealistic things you want to accomplish. His question was different. On the surface, it’s the same, but it makes you think differently, as if life was a picture all complete, and now you had to take a big bad eraser and start wiping away dreams. It makes you ask yourself, what is most important to you? At least, that’s how I interpreted that question, and I really thought about what would be most important to me at the end of my life.

For me, it boiled down to three things:

  1. Family. Self-explanatory.
  2. Significant contribution to society–preferably a positive technological impact in the way we live, share, and reflect on our lives.
  3. Been good to my friends, family, and community–being someone that I can live with.

Fortunately, for me, the answers were nearly the same–(showing that ive minimized cognitive dissonance over the past few years); yet it gave a fresh new perspective of looking at my life in terms of things I can’t do without. It was good.

The final lessons I learned from Keith were his struggles with insecurity; the fear that you weren’t measuring up. I laughed at this point, because that’s exactly how I feel quite often; even in the face of clear success, somewhere deep down, I ask self-defeating, skeptical questions to myself, “was this a fluke?; do I really deserve this?; is this gonna be the best I’ll ever be?” It’s like I’m subtlety asking for someone to scream at me at tell me on a job well done, but even then, I might not have believed it.

He spoke of when his first book got to the NYT Bestsellers list… how instead of cheering, and being happy, he freaked out and asked those very same questions. Funny, isn’t it–that if your personality doesn’t allow you to relax, even in the face of success like this, you’ll be stressed out. The key is to work hard, be humble, but to give yourself a pat on the back from time to time.

I don’t have much else to say beyond what I”ve already said, except… I’ll definitely be attending more MSR Visiting Speaker seminars from now on. 🙂

Purpose in an unguided world

There comes a time when each person is forced to consider their life’s destiny; their story, if you will. Those with lost hopes on the street were not always so, yet at some point, they transitioned from being people with hopes and dreams to adults, where living day-to-day has replaced any sort of adventure.

It is a terrible transition and one that I am refusing to ever fall into. But of course, no one ever *wants* to become a hopeless wretch without dreams or purpose; where happiness is a transient whim that can come and go without control. How does it happen then, that so many people live having settled for mediocrity, not in jobs or love… but in their lives, entirely?

At what point do we give up on the hope of happiness, and meaning? I don’t know… but I’ve always been afraid of giving up on dreams. THis leads me to ask myself again, just to be sure that I haven’t lost mine… what “is” my end?

Am I meant to be happy? Successful? Purposeful in this greater world? Impacting the lives of those closest to me; or will my greatest impact be to those that I have never met?

I’ve met so many people that are jaded in their views, those that have had a brutal transition from childhood naivety into adulthood realism. It’s a terrible shame, and I’m beginning to wonder if there is any real hope in letting them find their dreams again. And more importantly, to accept happiness when it comes knocking at their door. This is a sad world right now… and I’m taking this moment now to wonder what I can do to make the lives of those closest to me, a little better.