The first 18 years of life are a time to take everything in. We're encouraged to figure ourselves out. Elementary school, middle school and high school provide us with opportunities to "test the waters" in a variety of areas.
Senior year of high school hits, college applications and acceptances return and adults start dropping that question. You know, the one no one has a real answer to, "What do you want to do?"
Sure, half the time high school students reply with uncertainty and that's OK. They're 17 and 18 years old, they get a little leeway.
But, in the blink of an eye your college experience is nearing its end and you have to actually answer that dreaded question. The impending doom of the real world slowly starts to creep its way up to you.
Many of us craft really intricate ideas for our future. “I want to work on Wall Street,” or “I want to be a lawyer” are two incredible aspirations, and while not all will achieve these goals, many will.
Now, the question isn't about who can and who can't. The focus should be on answering a question of actual importance: Will I be happy doing this?
It's so easy to convince ourselves that something is for the better. We're amazing at telling ourselves something is worth doing, even if we hate it. Working on Wall Street, 80 hours a week, is obviously worth it for that kind of money, right?
For some, that lifestyle is the ultimate dream come true. Their 20s are for working and setting up their future, and happiness will work its way in during the process. If it looks good on a resume, sounds good to say and brings in the dough, then hell yeah, it's the fucking trifecta.
But if there is any apparent truth that comes with the reality we, it's that money isn't everything. Graduating college with a great degree and diving head first into the adult-world that we've feared for so long is amazing. But, do you have to come out with a job that leaves others in awe?
Think about this situation: Every step in your life up to college is in preparation for your future. In college, you "decided" you wanted to be a doctor because you like science and you like helping people, so obviously you were meant to be one.
By 21 you're sick of school, bust your ass to get good grades and when it's finally over you realize you still have to get through med school and your residency. Is being a doctor still worth it?
Being a doctor is an amazing accomplishment, but is going through years of school to ultimately be an unhappy professional worth it?
I grew up in a relatively well-off community, surrounded by an overwhelming amount of "professionals" and highly successful people. The obvious path to follow was one that had already been laid out.
Money served as a major influence on my interests. I had my eye set on being a business man, just like my dad and his friends. So naturally, I decided my future was that of a banker. It had money, numbers and all the other great banking stuff I was in search of.
Best of all, it sounded great. Adults loved to hear that I wanted to be in finance and working on Wall Street; they loved to tell me their stories and share insight about the world of banking.
My future was set. Or so I thought.
After enduring the experiences of transferring schools, heartbreak and depression, my outlook on life changed. For a long time, I was unhappy. I knew a decent amount of knowledge on a bunch of random things but I didn't know how to be happy.
These experiences forced me to ask myself questions. I had to sit and think about my future, wondering how I could be happy and successful. After a while, I knew I needed a change. I needed a change in my thinking, my actions and my vision for the future.
I decided the summer before my junior year of college would be for me. I needed a step back from reality and the pressures of a 20-something. I searched for an escape from my highly depressive environment.
So I worked retail at Lululemon's flagship store in NYC. I chose to spend my summer folding and hanging clothes, cleaning up customers' messes and selling stretchy pants.
My summer didn't strengthen my resume in any unique way, nor did it directly set me up for a successful career post-college.
But working at Lululemon was revolutionary for me. It exposed me to a world I had never before experienced and placed me in an environment with people from all walks of life.
After my first day of training for Lululemon, I had an epiphany.
I walked into that store with the goal of self-improvement. I wanted to overcome the vulnerability I once felt and to alleviate stress and anxiety. Most of all, I needed to learn how to love myself. I dreamt of happiness.
Six hours later, when I walked out of that store, my world was different. I had no desire to be a banker. For the first time in my life, I had no career plan for my future. Starting that summer evening, I had a redefined understanding of life: Happiness, above all else, is the key to success.
While working there, my mind was clear of pessimism, and I was less agitated and stressed by the basic downfalls of daily life. My familial relationships improved and for the first time in a long time, I felt in control of my life and well-being.
For the first 20 years of life, I was under the impression I knew who I was. I had a clear vision of myself and a plan for my future, and nothing could stray me from that path. I was convinced everything was a stepping stone in reaching success.
Sadly, I thought success was defined by a college education, your career and the extent of your wealth. I always put my vision of a "successful" life before that of a happy one.
I slowly learned that if you can't smile, you can't truly be successful. The best part about this is that being happy is a choice, we all have the ability to craft our own lives.
If happiness is the ultimate key to success (I believe it is) then that's what a vision of your future should reflect. If you don't truly understand who you are and you don't accept it, happiness will always be forced.
Ask yourself questions and don't be afraid to dig deeper, because only then will you truly find yourself.