Career Aspirations – What you Want

Bess Mucherson

What do you Want?

If you want something, there is a good chance you can get it. All of the adages may apply in terms of doing hard work, setting goals, and objectives and putting the effort in. There are also shortcuts to getting what you want but as with anything else, there is always a cost.

The first question you really need to answer is, “What do I really want?” Understanding what you want takes a lot of reading, learning, listening and experience.

When I was a child, I wanted to be an astronaut. I had dreams of flying through space alone in the shimmering darkness. I was going to be the first person to leave the solar system. I grew up in this large co-op and people were always moving in and out of the building. I found this giant refrigerator box and my mother allowed me to bring it up and put it in my room. This box became my spaceship.

NO! This wasn’t it but I sure wish it was!

It was just a box. I climbed in regularly and covered the outside with blankets. Every once in a while I would invite my sister, Stacey, to be my co-pilot. Most of the time, I just imagined being somewhere else. As I remember, I wanted to be alone. Not only did I want to be alone, I wanted to be alone in a small, dark, cramped space. I recognize that I was a child and things were much different then, but what if I got exactly what I wanted? If I achieved my childhood goal in life, I would be alone drifting endlessly at the edge of the universe. I would have no children, no wife, no one to share my feelings with. I would have no entertainment, no fresh air, and no space. I would have no love. Is that what I really wanted?

Years later, I working at US Joint Forces Command and I was having a cup of coffee with a retired senior military officer. He was an experienced officer and he had responsibility for the lives of many people in his career. He was thinking about the future and reflecting on his past. He said, “I got everything I wanted in my career and in life.” I asked if he was happy with the choices he made and where he is today. His answer surprised me. He said, “Cohen, leadership is a lonely place.” He went on tell me that men and women under his command were in harms way and in some cases had tragic or traumatic outcomes. He was happy in being retired and having less responsibility. He was happy that he had fun stories to tell. There were many things that he was unhappy about. “I don’t have regrets but….” He was divorced. He didn’t know his children as well as he felt he should. He had something that resembled PTSD and he was an expert in things that were going away with time and advancement. He worked as a contractor not because he had to work, but because he needed something to do. He spoke a lot about sacrifice and putting his energy for years in the wrong investments. His stories stuck with me.

Fast forward another few years. I was a VP at Chubb Insurance. Chubb was acquired by another company and people were going through the process of being chosen to stay or leave. One very senior person reflected on her investment in Chubb. She said, “I bleed blue and I have been committed and made sacrifices for over 25 years.” She missed events for her children and family. She worked late and got up early. She became successful and she became a senior leader. Upon reflection, she realized her sacrifices and her loss. She also discussed why being a senior leader feels lonely. She was not chosen to stay with the new Chubb company.

You have to ask yourself, “What do I really want”?

You may consider what actions you need to take to get from where you are to where you want to be. I think it is important to understand that it may not be possible to see where you will wind up in terms of your destination. Is it about the destination or the journey? You decide.

Getting to What you Want

If you really believe in what you want, go for it. If you are “going for it” you should consider a few basic ideas.

  1. Find a person or people that have retired (if they exist) in what you want to do. For example, if you want to lead a company, find out what that means by interviewing a retired corporate leader.
  2. If you want to be a rock star, try being a roadie first. In other words, take some time to learn about what you perceive you want to be from a different perspective. Learn and understand multiple perspectives of the role and work from there.
  3. Decide, commit, and understand. There is a very good chance that you will get everything you ask for. The challenge is to understand when you get everything you ask for, you also get a lot of unintended things you didn’t ask for. Find people to help you along the way manage these unintended things. Don’t isolate yourself and take the burdens on alone.

Working it Out

I didn’t become an astronaut. After many years of reflection and a good shot at the Air Force Academy, I realize that it wasn’t what I wanted. I am highly confident that I wouldn’t want to be in a small dark space singing Rocket Man for the bulk of my adult life.

My retired senior officer friend became very spiritual and spends much of his time helping people. He is closer to his children today and he has found his “calling.” He realized his strong desire for service and purposefulness in the service of others.

The former senior officer at Chubb, found herself in an even better leadership position in a new role at a new company. She also makes an extra effort to put her family and her personal priorities first. These do not impact her performance, rather they make her a better person all around.

Interesting Talk on “What do I really want?”

I hope you get what you want!