When I was a teenager, I wanted to become a professional activist.
I interned for the National Organization for Women’s Lesbian Rights Project and thought it was the most fantastic job possible; I dreamed of organizing press conferences and lobbying legislators and fomenting social change.
Now, nearly 20 years later, my focus is marketing and branding; I spend my days thinking about how to “monetize my platform.”
Is that a natural progression or selling out? And what does it mean to have a mission in life, anyway?
I actually believe that for most of us, our mission — the place where we have the most interest and feel a sense of calling — shifts during the course of our lives.
I’m still interested in activism and still contribute in various ways, like serving as co-chair for the Board of Visitors for Fenway Health, a large GLBT health center. But the phrase echoes in my mind: you learn in your 20s, and earn in your 30s.
I feel keenly that now is the time for me to build up a nest egg, because I can’t rely on an inheritance or a spouse. The next 5-10 years are critical for my future, and I need to concentrate my energies. My mission right now is creating a secure future for me and my (eventual) partner.
When my book Reinventing You: Define Your Brand, Imagine Your Future was released last year, I heard many stories from Baby Boomers who were “retiring” from their regular jobs, but were emphatically not retiring from life.
They often wanted to make a social contribution, and to cycle back to some of the interests they nurtured, in smaller ways, during their professional careers – like Deborah Shah, a former high-ranking human resources executive I profiled, who switched into a new career as a political campaign manager. In fact, one of the most popular blog posts I ever wrote for the Harvard Business Review was “How to Reinvent Yourself after 50.”
For now, the GLBT movement seems to be doing just fine without my full-time assistance. But advocacy is a strand throughout my professional life, taking on greater or lesser emphasis at different times, as I engage where I can.
To me, a full life is one that offers meaning, interesting challenges to solve, and financial reward.
Your focus area may change over time, but as long as you can retain a mix that works for you, those are the ingredients for success.