Aim High(er)


Do you have a plan for your life? Have you set the bar high enough? Are you enjoying the journey?

Before the quarter-life crisis had a name, I navigated through mine in my 20s. As a result, I wrote out goals for my life. And I created a snapshot of a perfect day in my life, 20 years into the future.

At the time I was a struggling twentysomething. Relatively speaking. But it was an idyllic time compared with with journey in TV shows like Girls. Which my teenage daughter assures me has no basis in reality. How she would reach that conclusion, I’d rather not ponder. But I digress.

I was very specific in setting my goals. Get an advanced degree. Change careers. Meet and marry a wonderful partner. Have two children, a girl and a boy. Buy a house in a specific zip code. Become a vice president of corporate communications. Be active in the community. Have a family dog.

And the surprising – or maybe not so surprising – thing is that almost everything on the list came to be. And almost exactly as I had set forth. Or imagined. Or dreamed.

Today is my 22nd wedding anniversary. My husband and I had breakfast at a restaurant near the beach, along with our daughter and our son. They were even born in the exact order as I’d written down, years ago.

We dined outdoors, so our dog joined us. He was actually a later addition to our family than originally planned. About 5 years ago, we visited with a number of rescue dogs, and Kincaid jumped into our daughter’s lap. He chose us. It wasn’t until we brought him home that I realized he exactly fit the vision of the labrador that I’d imagined.

When I first wanted to change careers into corporate communications, I faced a lot of rejection. While my husband and I were on our honeymoon, the hiring manager for one of the jobs I’d interviewed for had made his decision. Unfortunately, it wasn’t me.

But less than a year later I finally landed that first job. And I finished my master’s degree a few months after that.

As it turned out, my marriage and my future employer launched in the same year. It wasn’t until a few years later, though, that I joined DIRECTV. A few years after that, I participated in a life-changing leadership development program through the Center for Creative Leadership.

We were each assigned an executive coach. I lucked out with a great one, whom I worked with for several years. I’m still haunted by her question when I told her my career goal was to become a VP of corporate communications. Her question? Why didn’t I want to be CEO?

Fast forwarding to a few years ago, as VP of corporate communications at DIRECTV, I found myself in the auditorium of Jordan High School in Los Angeles. Oprah Winfrey surprised students and some of our employees at an assembly as part of a DIRECTV day of service at the school.

Once everyone had settled down after the ecstatic surprise of Oprah making an appearance, she asked who could cite Newton’s third law of physics.

If you don’t remember your high school physics, as I didn’t that day, here it is. For every action, there is an an equal and opposite reaction. For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. Oprah repeated this several times.

And she shared with these high school students, every action you take in life will have an equal and opposite reaction. She talked about being an elementary school student and turning in an assignment early to see how her teachers would respond. She quickly learned that it earned her a reputation as a top student.

Of course, this was lost on my own children when I tried to recount the story and the lesson. Their teachers, they informed me solemnly, would not accept assignments early.

I thought about the Jordan High School students telling their kids a few decades from now about their visit with Oprah and how it had changed their lives.

Without saying it directly – or at least not that I remember – Oprah was inspiring these kids through her own example to aim high. Dream big. And work for it. If they can imagine it, they can do it.

And now that my two children are in high school, it’s odd and unexpected that I feel like I’m in my 20s again. Once again I’m trying to figure out what I want to do with the rest of my life. There’s that same feeling of forming ideas and options, trying out new selves, and giving myself permission to dream again. Wondering if it will all work out. And how.

A few years ago I was fortunate to join the Wall Street Journal’s Women in the Economy event. BET Networks CEO Debra Lee had an insightful question during one of the breakout sessions. What we are as a nation doing to tap the extensive expertise and energy of women whose children have grown and launched their own lives?

What I’ve learned from the first 20-year journey is that whatever you dream, imagine and work for will come to pass. So set your sights high. And then bump them up even further. Look for opportunities to help other people. Give back wherever and whenever you can.

This is advice I’m taking to heart as I plan the next 20-year journey. I also intend to enjoy it more, confident that much of it will happen. And there will be some amazing experiences along the way.

What’s on your 20-year journey?

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Caroline Leach

Hi, I'm Caroline Leach. I help people and organizations tell their stories. I'm a Marketing VP at AT&T, a former Communications VP at DIRECTV and an alum of the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism. This blog, How to Build Your Career through Social Media, shows you how to build your personal brand, advance your career and embrace your future. It helps you promote your employer and your network too. Opinions expressed in this blog are my own. Your comments are welcomed and encouraged. I'd love to hear from you!

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