Image credit: Self Discovery by Rita Loyd
I am a Korean-American immigrant. My family came to the US in 1988. I was 10 years old. Like many immigrant families, my parents valued education and hard work. I was always told to work hard, get good grades, become a doctor or a lawyer. Get a stable job.
Through hard work and persistence, I did just that. I earned a J.D. and became a lawyer. Yet, when I got to the end of the rainbow and actually found that pot of gold, I realized I was unhappy. And I felt guilty about feeling unhappy. I told myself I was being ungrateful.
The solution? Work harder. Grow the practice, earn more money, take on more challenging cases.
Albert Einstein said, "Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results." I was doing precisely that. And predictably, I was getting increasingly despondent.
In 2012, I returned to a practice I had abandoned since law school: meditation. Through my meditation practice, I was able to calm my mind, which was constantly operating in overdrive. Once I found stillness, I had the space to examine my life.
"Why are you here? What makes you feel alive? What would truly make you happy? What is the unique gift of yourself that you are bringing to all of us?"
When my friend Kit Newman asked me these questions, I cried. I cried because no one had ever asked me those questions. More importantly, I cried because I had never asked myself those questions.
These questions unlocked something inside of me -- that part of myself which had been hidden, suppressed, and neglected all of my life.
Finding the answers was not easy. The idea of abandoning all that I have worked so hard to achieve was frightening. I questioned my sanity. I feared what others would think. I wondered if I'd ever find "the answer."
The first step was to give myself permission. I told myself, "You don't have to be a lawyer if you don't want to. So, what would make you joyful? What difference do you want to make in this world?" I spent the next year on a journey of inner exploration. I took writing classes. Went on week long silent meditation retreats. I went to Burning Man.
At first, I kept demanding an answer. "If you are no longer a lawyer, what is your new job title?" I realized I had spent so much of my life either trying to become a lawyer or identifying myself as a lawyer and the idea of not having that identity was scary. Then, I realized my job title didn't really matter. I was and still am a lawyer. That wouldn't change.
I also found myself approaching this personal odyssey the same way I approached law school. Work hard, be successful. But when you are no longer measuring yourself against someone else's yardstick, "success" becomes irrelevant.
Socrates stated "The unexamined life is not worth living." I agree. When I began to examine my life, I realized I was measuring myself against a yardstick that wasn't meant for me. I was living a dream that was meant for someone else.
After spending the past three years in exploration mode, what I learned is this. I hope when I'm on my deathbed, I'm still wondering, "What do I want to do when I grow up?" The answer isn't nearly as important as asking yourself the bigger questions about your mission, value, and vision along the way.
For me, the most authentic version of myself still includes being a lawyer. I enjoy helping people and problem-solving. I also learned I enjoy art, writing and teaching. Instead of having just one job title -- lawyer -- now I wear multiple hats. This makes me feel whole.
As my friend, Kit aka "Ossim'r" puts it:
"Finding the most authentic version of yourself and bringing that out into the world is the shortest way to true happiness. However, this journey takes exploration and courage."
It takes courage to admit to yourself that the dream you're living isn't meant for you. It takes courage to pivot. But what could be more worthwhile than living your purpose? Making the impact you are meant to make in the world? To discover and share your gift?
So, my challenge to you is this. Be courageous. Find your authentic self. Find your genius and bring it to life. Examine your life because "the unexamined life is not worth living."