What I learned this year from my birthday

I just turned 27 this week and this year’s birthday anxiety was no different than the years before.

Being a year closer to 30 with no career nor a sense of direction in life has made it difficult to enjoy what’s supposed to be a celebratory moment that only happens once a year.

Throughout this entire week, I found time to just sit down and talk with myself to ask questions such as:

  • What do I enjoy doing and why?
  • What do I want in life?
  • What viable career paths are there for me?

The answers to these profound questions challenged me to look much deeper in myself and gave me a better understanding of just who I am and what I want in life. Here’s what I’ve learned.

Why do I enjoy doing what I enjoy doing?

I learned that much of where I get stuck was due to my inability to look beyond this question.

Sure, it’s quite obvious and innocuous to ask “What do I enjoy doing?” to figure out viable career paths and passions that revolve around these interests, but I never stopped to ask myself “Why do I enjoy doing what I enjoy doing?”

As someone that feels that life has more meaning when I have a craft that I’m excited to wake up to every morning and dedicate myself to, the answers to this question are essential to me.

Perhaps from my previous posts, you get an idea that I like video games and technology, which is true. But it may not come as a surprise to you that I also love learning languages.

I’ve been studying Chinese Mandarin for the past few years now but I never took it seriously until the last few months. Even though I’ve been studying with a private tutor for nearly a year now, my intense studying never really took off until just a few months ago. Which paid off because just this week, I managed to help a customer purchase a new product all in Chinese. This was a feat that I thought was impossible just a year ago.

Despite my excitement being able to understand and speak with other people, I realized that:

I love applying what I learned to the real world and solving real world problems.

Even though it feels great to be able to watch a show or movie without English subtitles and still understand what is being said or having real conversations, I realized that I love applying what I learn to real world experiences.

This insight was so profound to me because it explains so much of what I enjoyed doing in the past til now. It explains why I enjoy reading certain books about psychology and business. It’s why I got so excited about certain science and math concepts that I could apply to the real world, like using centripetal force to get the last bits of ketchup at the bottom of the bottom. And it may have been one reason why I pursued software engineering.

This perhaps why I love learning so much and why I’m so curious; because I love using what I learn to solve real world problems.

But it’s not enough to just solve problems, I have an urge to teach others.

This is my second insight. This is perhaps the sole reason why I love writing articles about algorithms and user experience. I love explaining to others how I arrived at a solution because it not only helps me feel that I truly understood something, but in teaching someone else, I feel that I’m solving another real world problem by helping them. It’s why one important aspect of a career is the ability to help people and feel that my work is impactful.

Perhaps this is why I enjoy the current job that I have and why I enjoyed teaching in the past. I’ll also add that explaining my code was perhaps the most enjoyable aspect of my job as a software engineer.

Aside from these, I love creative and artistic endeavors. I recently watched a full 40 minute video of someone kit-bashing a robot mammoth.

Why? Because I too love working with my hands. But why is that?

Because I love using art and creativity to bring pieces together.

This ties back with problem solving and applying my knowledge. As a kid, I was obsessed with jigsaw puzzles. Seeing fragmented pieces and finding their proper connections to see the beautiful image in its entirety brought me so much life. Even though I haven’t touched one in years, the same feeling remains alive today.

It’s that feeling of being able to see a problem and build a map of the solution. And it’s also figuring out how to solve something in a more creative way that brings me joy.

With these insights, I now need to ask myself “What do I want in life?” Or better yet “How do I want to live my life?”

What do I want in life?

I realized that before I consider potential career paths, I need to ask myself what kind of life I want to live. From there, then I can ask what career can afford me that lifestyle.

To be frank, I often think about buying a one-way plane ticket and just getting away from it all. But I know that I’ll mere be running away from my problems and I know that wherever I go, they’ll follow.

But recently I realized that my issues don’t necessarily pertain to where I am but more so with how I feel about my life.

I often feel that I don’t have much control over my own time. Whether it’s having to go to work or handle family obligations, I often notice that much of my anxiety comes from not feeling in control.

This is perhaps why I value my hobbies so much because I feel that the time spent is truly my own.

While I want to live a life that affords me the time and ability to exercise my creative endeavors, the ultimate question is what will afford that lifestyle?

What viable career paths are there?

I want to preface and say that I know that having a fulfilling life doesn’t require a career. However, for someone that needs work to live and since it takes a significant part of my life, this question is important for me.

This is the question that I’ve been struggled with for over a year now since I left software engineering.

What is it that I actually want to do?

I thought I had a better sense of what I wanted to do since leaving software engineering. For a time, I thought customer success or sales was something that might work for me. But I realized how exhausting it can be for me physically and emotionally when I have to spend most of my days working with people with little time to myself.

Due to this, I’ve been suffering from analysis paralysis. Even though I recently finished a 15-day UX Writing challenge and created an online portfolio, I’ve only sent out a single application.

And that’s because the truth is I’m afraid.

I’m afraid of failure, rejection, and choosing the “wrong” path again. I use say “wrong” because while I know that software engineering taught me a lot of incredibly valuable things, I can’t help but feel that I wasted a lot of time.

This is where the birthday anxieties comes in. In a society that values early achievement and a coherent path, it often feels like the older I get and the more I struggle to look for a career, the more I feel scrutinized.

While I’m working to overcome my fears, these insights have given me a much clearer sense of what I want in a career. I know that my criteria consists of something that involves:

  • Communication. Perhaps something where I can apply my writing, teaching, and language skills.
  • Constant learning and Problem Solving.
  • Helping others. I need to feel that my work directly impacts others for the better.
  • Art and creativity.

While many of you may have some ideas pop into your mind, here are a few that I’ve considered:

  • Freelance writing. This gives me the opportunity to have control of who I work with, where I work, and when.
  • UX Writing.
  • Copywriting. This is tangent to UX writing where I feel that I could do this job on the side as a freelancer.
  • UX Design. I’m not 100% sure if I’m interested in creating the designs but I do like the idea of working on something that entails creative thinking, communication, and directly impacting people’s lives.

Perhaps there are other roles out there that may better fit my desires. And yes, it’s incredibly difficult to find a career that will be an absolute 100% fit, but I hope to one day find the one that gets close.

Conclusion

Each day I’m learning more and more about myself. I feel that we’re often so caught up with our busy days that we don’t give ourselves the opportunity to sit down and reflect. But I realized that I need apply that knowledge about myself and put myself out there again instead of constantly pondering.

I know that life won’t be perfect even when I find my ideal fit but I strive to build and live a life that I’m excited to wake up to each and every morning.

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