Do, not be

What do you want to be when you grow up? As you got older, your ideal answer might have changed from ‘fireman’ or ‘teacher’ to ‘partner’ or ‘CEO’. That change itself isn’t so troublesome – you’re growing up after all.

But what happens when you actually make it? Maybe you decided to be president in first grade, and forty years later you did it. Or replace president with your dream du jour. And change forty years to the shorter life cycle of your 21st century job. Where do you go from there?

I think we’ve always asked the wrong question. What you want to “be” phrases your goal in terms of achievements and titles. Maybe that’s a natural outgrowth of our networked life, where those factors are so visible. But in truth, “Imma be” is associating your identity with a destination. You’ll either feel disappointed if you don’t make it, or be unmotivated if you arrive.

Moreover, focusing on what you want to be promotes squandering the present. You’ll rationalize doing work that you feel indifferent about (or even despise) in the name of “putting in your time” and taking a step upward.

About a year ago, I found myself doing just that. Wasting the here-and-now on work I felt little passion for. In fact, my last post on “motivating yourself” was actually a more personal reflection on motivating myself — detailing the exact thought process that prompted me to change jobs. Through that exercise I chose new goals in terms of what could make me happy and motivated today.

This Thanksgiving I’m thankful to celebrate my first year at IA Ventures. Here, with this small family, I feel so lucky to have at once defined and done exactly what I love every day. I know now that I’m at my best when I’m around makers. I thrill at the chance to enable, in whatever small way I can, visionary leaders at the earliest stages of bringing their “favorite futures” to life.

Making what you love a part of your work starts with a simple step: refocus on what you want to do rather than what you want to be. The difference in framing will help clarify if you’re over-optimizing today for some title or wealth or fame destination you hope to reach.

Instead, follow people who inspire you. Work for a purpose you believe in. Build skills that you value because you like practicing them, not because others value them on your resume.

Chances are, what you want to do is actually the best way to become what you want to be. You just can’t see the path until after you’ve traveled it.