The Joyful Journey of Self-Discovery
Many of us have done some soul-searching lately. Some of us have looked at our companies and our brands. We might be really digging into what our roles are at work — why we’re working for this company or doing this kind of work and not that. And some of us have looked beyond to the bigger picture: our communities, our societies.
Most of us have heard the idea we’re on “a journey,” one that leads us to self-discovery, to really knowing ourselves. Who we are, what our purpose is, why we do what we do?
I’ve thought about my own path forward, my own evolution, and learning from the journey of others around me — and I started to see a pattern. It became obvious that each decade created incremental value that an individual can bring to life, business, friends and family. Indeed, there are lots of “developmental roadmaps,” yet many are cold or focus on problems and challenges. This discussion will hopefully inspire a way to look at the journey and see the value a human can provide from each segment. There are so many models out there like, Design Thinking, that support gathering people from different backgrounds for fresh perspectives. Maybe Design with the journey of learning can amplify new ways to look at problems.
This article comes from a place of thousands of interviews that I have personally done and where I got the most value. In many, many cases, that’s from the segments that businesses have deemed less worthy, given they would be aging out. Underrepresented always, with incredible learning and foresight to add.
Here is how I see we navigate and build incremental value as we grow!
When we’re kids, everything can seem wondrous. That’s especially true when we’re new on this earth, just awakening into ourselves. We look at the world around us, with so much to take in, and even the simplest of things can seem amazing!
We are born curious. We’re learning so much — and not just from formal schooling. Yet it never feels overwhelming or scary — kids love to discover and learn in so many different ways!
We are sponges to the world. We see the world through our parents or guardians. This time in our life is where our values are shaped.
Teen Years: Discovery
Our psychology changes. One way to describe it is we go from looking at the world from the inside and having no fear, to being on stage looking back at ourselves and watching from the outside in, the impact the world has around us. We see and feel who we are, the impact we make, and that heightened level of feeling can be both distracting and enlightening. Life has a living vibration and each moment is one of discovery, causing both angst and joy.
The need for independence allows us to take our values and begin to fine-tune or hardwire what we’ve learned and the impact those filters create for us making our own choices. It’s a time when colours are richer, laughing is from the belly, crying might break us — and through it all, we keep growing and beginning to recognize the person we might want to become.
Some of us drop our anchor and are crystal-clear on our purpose in life. Others haven’t yet had the opportunity to recognize their personal unique genius, and the journey of discovery continues.
Psychologically, we shift back inside during our 20s, taking what we’ve learned, our values and lessons from our teen years and look back out at the world, better understanding who we are and what matters. Some may see this next segment of the journey as an extension of the discovery phase, but it’s a little bit different. Here, we already know a talent or skill we want to develop, already know at least a little about our strengths, likes, dislikes. This stage is more purposeful. We begin to dig deeper and more fully explore our talents, the opportunities around us, and what brings us joy.
The exploration phase is about really learning what these things mean for us. Where can a passion lead you? How can you turn a hobby into a job you love? How do you keep learning and growing? We also experiment with independence, and we learn a lot about how we connect with other people. We look to connect with people who share our outlooks and enthusiasm for interests and talents, and we build networks, communities.
By the time we reach our 30s, we’re more aware of ourselves — of where we fit in our networks and communities, the work we’re best at, and how we connect with other people. We’re also ready to keep growing and evolving — we’re aware of both who we are and who we want to be.
We are still learning, but we have enough life lessons that we begin to feel a little more in control of our destiny: purposeful in our decisions and aware of what may be missing and the clarity to begin to seek and fill those spaces.
Our values are reflected in our professional roles, personal choice of friends, activities, and we begin to have confidence in our voice as we know who we are inside and have enough life experience to understand the impact choices make.
40s: Reflection Leading to Inner Confidence
Self-awareness in our 30s leads us into reflection in our 40s. We have enough life experiences and can look back at the path we’ve travelled. We become comfortable to take time to breathe. We understand the journey and the lessons to date. Then we look at where we want to go and explore how we can get there.
This kind of reflection, I might liken to the years of courage. You can look forward and back with equal amounts of time, and celebrate life and living or a realization that life is not yet fully lived. Either choice is from a place of courage, no longer letting your life take a back seat. For some, it’s welcome change. For outsiders looking in, they might see the “midlife crisis,” or, more accurately, a person who’s breaking free to try and live fully.
Change comes with consequences and awareness, but also such hope, and joy will result. For some of us, making change is the only way to reach our full potential and fulfilling our purpose.
50s: Inner Confidence
The calm segment of the journey! Life has decades of lessons and richness that are now embodied in who we are as individuals as we move to inner confidence. We’re living our purpose in some aspect of our lives: professionally, as parents, through our passion projects, and feeling joy. When we reach this age, we’re confident in both our identity and our abilities. Suddenly, someone who was too scared to join an improv troupe or go skydiving can take a “leap of faith!”
For some of us, the “leap” isn’t quite so daring — but you can still see our inner confidence playing out in leadership, new ventures, and new skills. We know who we are at this point — and we know how capable we are! And we’ll freely seek to help others see their own strengths. It’s almost as a vocation for us; we want others to feel that sense of peace that comes with confidence and personal surety, to help them achieve it too.
60s: Wisdom and Gratitude
Our inner confidence distills further as we continue our journey of self-discovery. As we move into our 60s, we’re able to share wisdom with the people around us, these universal truths we have from lived experience and watching others.
When we’re young, it’s sometimes tempting to see the wisdom our elders can give us as “outdated” or not something that applies to us, but human nature is remarkably durable! We understand that more and more as we grow older. Having this kind of wisdom in the workplace, the family, the community is so key. Some of the greatest value that I’ve found during thousands of interviews comes from the 60+ demographic. They have seen and felt so much, but at this point of the journey, life comes with better understanding.
70s: Understanding and Celebration
It’s really unfortunate that our society tends to see people over the age of 70 as “frail” or even just “old.” We might think of older people as not “contributing” to society because they’ve left the workplace or because they’ve become ill.
People in their 70s are amazingly important in our communities and our lives, though! The wisdom and gratitude of our 60s evolves into a celebration of life itself during this decade of our lives. Our elders often have such clear insight into what’s really important — caring for each other, connecting, being together. It’s so easy to see this wisdom in action when people in their 70s watch over their grandkids, volunteer in their communities, and keep giving back to us!
80+: Teaching and Sharing
The final role we evolve into is that of a teacher. Not a teacher like you’d see in school — now we’re teaching from our lived experiences, sharing traditions, stories, memories — and everything we’ve learned about living in the moment, appreciating life as it truly is.
Our society can put a lot on our shoulders when it comes to carving out our journey through life. When we’re young, we might feel like we need to figure out a four-decade long career by the time we’re 20. As we grow older, we might feel pressure to “stay relevant” or even sadness about our bygone youth. The culture around growing old certainly doesn’t help, as older people find themselves pushed to the margins.
If we really look, though, there’s something to celebrate every step of the way — especially when we know ourselves and our purpose. With that deep understanding, we can empathize and connect more deeply with those ahead of us on this joyful journey, let them guide us to understand why we do what we do!
And we can always start with the why!
— Margo (originally published June 8, 2020)
Here to inspire and create conversation!
I am a business person who has excelled in driving a competitive edge through marketing, strategy, innovation, building irresistible brands and unlocking the genius that exists. I am writing to inspire or create new consideration. If you have ideas or questions that you would like me to put a pen too, I would be delighted.
I would also be grateful if you shared this or any of the articles I have written to inspire others.