When It Comes to Finding Your Path. Don't Overthink. Do.
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I was in San Luis Obispo, Calif., last weekend for a wedding. I took advantage of my time on the left coast to travel to Modesto to see my family. My brother and sister happened to be in town as well, so for the first time since May, all five members of the Ruiz family were gathered.
I had the chance to spend some quality time with my sister Mary, who's the youngest in the family, and she filled me in on what she’s been up to since her graduation in May.
The more we spoke, the more I could feel the anxiety in her voice as she reiterated time and time again that she had no idea what to do.
“You love business and technology and Miguel loves medicine," she said, referring to my younger brother. "What do I have?”
I understood her frustration. I had the exact same feeling of inadequacy and anxiety when I graduated. But what I wanted to make clear to my beloved sister last weekend -- and now to others out there grappling with their careers -- is that most people have no idea what they want to do.
I envy the likes of Kobe Bryant, Leo Messi and LeBron James -- not because of their celebrity status but because at an early age they figured out exactly what they wanted to do. And they started doing it.
For most people, it takes years or decades to find a calling, a passion or a field. There is no real timeline for when someone will figure things out or will finally arrive at an endeavor she will love. But the only way to get there is by trying many things. A passion or calling just doesn't manifest itself.
A person cannot simply think his way to clarity. He has to try things.
Contrary to my sister’s initial belief, I wasn’t born knowing that I wanted to work in an entrepreneurial environment or that I wanted to be a writer. And my brother Miguel did not know that he wanted to pursue medicine. But we each had inklings about our interest in these fields.
Many people have an inkling, a bit of curiosity that pushes them, say, to explore something or look it up on the Internet.
“The possession of a particular talent is instinctively sensed by its owner, so if any of you are blessed you will be the first to know it," the Stoic philosopher Epictetus wrote centuries ago in Discourses and Selected Writings.
"It is true, however, that no bull reaches maturity in an instant, nor do men become heroes over night," Epictetus continued. "We must endure a winter’s training, and can’t be dashing into situations for which we aren’t yet prepared.”
So pursue that curiosity. Only then will it be possible to a passion or a field of possible career interest.
During the months after I graduated college, I read about or tried my hand at the following pursuits: online marketing, English as a second language teaching, graduate school, banking, starting a business and soccer coaching. (I’m sure I’m forgetting a few things.) I didn’t like some of them, I hated others and I failed at many.
But what spoke to me (even after a failure) was entrepreneurship and the startup world. I just had to get involved. And my devouring of book after book, podcast after podcast and setting off for meeting after meeting seemed to confirm something at a deep level inside: I really liked this field.
This was both an empowering and a humbling feeling. The more I learned, the more excited I became. But the more I learned, the more I realized that I didn't know anything.
It's that dichotomy that pushed me forward to ask questions, meet people and explore this business side of me. It’s an ongoing process, one that takes time, patience and discipline.
Only by asking questions and trying new things can people really get to where they want to be. It’s not going to be just handed to them. Be brave and get after it.
So, Mary and fellow graduates, try things. Try many things. Maybe it’s too late to be an NBA star but it's possible to discover, or rediscover, a desire, a passion, a calling, an invitation.
Related: How Entrepreneurs Can Read to Lead