My parents never had the luxury of having many choices. They worked hard their whole life, and gave us the best education they could afford, the best housing situation they could afford, and the values they had.
I remember one of my birthdays, when I had asked my parents to get me a new backpack for school. I really wanted that backpack badly, all other kids had it. They couldn't afford it and I have a memory that my father was very upset about it, in his bedroom. I remember going into my bedroom at night to sleep and cried in bed. And then my mom came to my room carrying a box with a doll which she had bought a long time back to gift someone else, and she gave that to me as a gift. I remember the gesture as warm and nice, and I feel slightly guilty to date for having made my parents feel bad for not having the choice of just giving me what I wanted.
Choices are a relatively new thing to me, and it is one of those things that money can buy. I grew up with the mentality that the way I would get to have things was by accumulating debt. If I wanted a pair of jeans and I couldn't afford it, I would pay it in 6 instalments, then I could afford it. Well, maybe I could…we'd see when the credit card statement arrived, but hey! I could also make partial payments into the credit card. And that's how I bought things, and accumulated debt.
It wasn't until I left Google that I got a good lump sum of money and I paid off my credit card debt, my loans, gave up my leased car to move countries. When I started at Facebook, I started relatively fresh. That comes with choices, but I didn't have as many choices as I have today because I didn't have a huge safety net, and I wasn't yet recognised as an EU citizen. Today I also have the freedom to pick whatever country I want to live in within that larger constraint.
At some point in my journey at Facebook I decided I would quit, and that was the first time that I had the privilege of making big, uncommon choices. Where would I live? What would I do? It was the first of my many moves that didn't follow a job, or had a job waiting for me in the other side.
I have to admit this question still haunts me to date. I feel like I should be doing something big, something to help climate change, something to impact the lives of other women who are pregnant or have small children, or mothers who are struggling to find positions that are compatible with their experience. Something that would make a big impact in others. I wonder a lot whether I still live in auto-pilot.
I absolutely love what I do. I love working with people and resolving problems with them. I love creating safe spaces so people can learn, grow, collaborate with others. I love when I help a person or a team to resolve an issue that is bothering them, or making them unhappy. I like when I help align someone's purpose with their day to day job. I love when I see someone realize a growth milestone they've just reached, sometimes accomplishing more than they thought they could.
I also like other things. I love spending time with my friends and family. I love spending time with my daughter, and I long for spending more time with my parents. I like practicing yoga, which I haven't done in a long while. I love climbing, I love being in nature. When I decide to do all the growth, learning and help within groups of people in the context of a job, time being our most scarce resource, I am taking away from these things. Wonderful if each day had 48 hours. But it doesn't.
What if one could design the life they wanted, without constraints, from a place of choice? What would you choose to do in that case?
What if you could pick the country you want to live, the job you want to have, or have no job. What would you do differently than what you do today?
What if every day was a blank sheet and you could literally do whatever you wanted. What would you choose?
Perhaps for each of us the range of options change quite a bit. But have you thought what are the things that you can tweak in the way you live your life so that you find deeper meaning and satisfaction?
How much of those answers are rational vs instinctive? And once you decide, when does the itch of the “what if” calms down?