Returning to school in my 40s has prompted me to reconsider the question: “What do you want to be when you grow up?”

My experiences, as a psychologist, a mother, a wife and researcher of wellbeing, have evolved my ideas of success and, in turn, made me reconsider what it is I want to be when I grow up.

When I asked my 5-year-old boy what he wanted to be, he said a dog. My 8-year-old said that he wanted to be a spiderman fireman. My friends’ answers weren’t nearly as cool as this, and many still hadn’t a clue what they wanted to be.

So how do you gain clarity about what you want to do when you grow up?

Firstly, set some goals that align with your values, and then go after them with the right mindset.

My father instilled a great mindset for achieving goals, telling me repeatedly as a kid: “If you can put your hand on your heart and tell me that you tried your hardest, then I am happy . I don’t care what the outcome is as long as you’ve learnt along the way and you are better than you were yesterday.”

My father’s sage words have stuck with me, and allowed me to try new things and reach outside my comfort zone. Armed with the courage to try new things has helped me to truly understand what my passion is in life.

Success rarely comes with our first attempt. Much like a Mexican wave, the pathway to success has lots of ups and downs – the ups feel great and give you momentum, but the lows are equally important. Every time you climb back from a low point you build your resilience and strength.

The key in life is to keep going. Learn how to rise every time you fall and grow stronger.

The second insight that has helped me realise what I want to be when I grow up is to understand exactly what my version of success is. Social media would define success as happiness and beauty; advertising would have us believe success is wealth and assets; and our friends/family have their own versions.

But success is what you decide it to be, and not what others decide for you.

For example, as a psychologist I used to treat people for depression. Some of these people included professionals that were living inauthentic lives – lawyers, doctors and pharmacists who had followed their parents’ version of success, or the media’s portrayal of success, but not their own. Some had wanted to be graphic designers, others authors or stay-at-home mums.

I have realised that if you are brave enough to follow your dreams, but wise enough to know which dream to follow and why, then you are on the road to success.

Finally, I definitely want to be awesome when I grow up.

You have to drag yourself out of bed, go to a job that you are bored with, talk to people who don’t interest you, all to earn money to buy things you don’t care about – it is exhausting and draining. Instead, why not use exactly the same energy doing something you love.

When I stopped working hard at chemistry (which I sucked at), when I left a corporate job at Ernst and Young (which I also sucked at) and started to work to my strengths (as a trauma psychologist, a PhD student, and as a mother) I discovered my version of success.

Find success by focusing on what you are passionate about, instead of following someone else’s dream. You’ll be far more awesome that way.

Source: Wanganui Chronicle

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