I'm 51, so I figure I'd better get this right pretty soon. :) I think about this a lot, though. The common thread through the last 25 years, though, is that I've worked for myself. That's a lot of years without a safety net, and it's also a lot of years to learn habits that would make it almost impossible for me to work for someone else.
About 20 years ago, though, I put together this list. At the time, I felt like most of my life was ahead of me and that I wanted as many options as possible. So there's very different from each other, and it was just me dreaming one day:
- StoryTelling as a consultant. I knew branding was a farce the minute I heard it at a conference in San Francisco two decades ago.
- CEO for Rent (for a month) when principals go on sabbaticals. When they came back, I'd give them a full report on their firm. But usually I'd just be doing my own work and observing along the way.
- Copywriting. It's one thing that's always come easy for me.
- Account Planning, as in research and insights. I teach a course on it, now, with my smarter-than-me son Jonathan, who has real experience in that field, but that's as close as I've come.
- Work with other "consultants"—very few of them even make $100k/year and they have no idea what they are doing. Either they aren't a fit for it or they are lazy or they work hard but just don't know what to do.
- Turnaround consulting. I love the perception and quick decisions that it requires.
- Mediation. I like the drive to be fair, the requirement to be candid while also being kind, and the fact that the decisions really matter.
- Useability/User Interface expert. I'm not one, but I'm fascinated by the science.
- Talk radio host. I'd be one of the best in the country. :)
- Do only M/A work. I've participated in ca. 150 deals, but it's fun, extremely challenging, and there are high stakes all around.
- Commercial pilot. I fly airplanes and helicopters now, but I've always been intrigued by the idea of doing it for a living. The problem is that all the ATP First Class Medical guys/girls tell me it's boring in a commercial setting.
- Motorcycle journalist. Enough said. I've been all over the world on mine and taken fun pictures—why not get paid for it.
- Press Secretary. I can make shit up on my feet all day long.
- Author—three books to date, all of which have sold well. Like to write a whole lot more, though. None of them have come from deep inside me yet.
- Speaker. You know, one of those $40k at a pop kind of people. Not there yet.
- Private detective. It would be a terrific excuse to buy all those fun gadgets.
- Govt: working high up in the GAO and keeping politicians of all stripes honest (if that's even possible).
So why am I doing consulting for a living? I spent six years in grad school studying and teaching ancient languages (Greek, Latin, Syrian, Aramaic, Arabic, Hebrew, etc.). So obviously my education has nothing to do with it. Really, I think it just happened. I was in the right place at the right time. Yes, it's taken a lot of work to get to this level of consulting, but a darn big chunk of it is just pure good luck. Being in the right place at the right time. I never forget that, either.
I could have picked one of those other things just as easily and been happy. I guess that's a strong argument for believing that we will all live several ives. Dang it. I've got lots to do!
Really, though, I've lived a completely full life and it's all gravy from here forward. I am deeply grateful for the people I've met, the people I've helped, the people who have shaped me, and of course my dear family. So I guess gratitude is another common thread I'd like to see in everything I do.
Back to this notion of what you want to be when you grow up. if you are in your thirties and forties and not enjoying what you are doing in this field, then fix it or go deliver pizzas or work at Awful House. Seriously, either you are good at something or you aren't. If you haven't been able to make a good living, be choosy with your client base, hire good, fun people, and get excited about going to work every day, you have only two choices: fix it or quit.
Like me, there are all sorts of things you could do with your life. For now, let's just assume you have one of them. Use it well.
Are you with me?