My First 30 Years: Dealing with ‘Good Problems’
By a pen name: John Ramadhan on 23 Apr 2020Career Development
I have been very lucky. Perhaps more than many; and in that sense this article might end up being useful for very few people, especially those who are faced with “good problems”.
As for the definition of good problems, essentially the occur when you are faced with choices or decisions to make, at the end of which there is no downside. For example, let’s say you got admission to two universities or you’ve got two job offers, whereby whichever choice you make you’ll end up having a college education and a salary respectively.
In this sense, there is little guidance over there. Few books or articles are written to guide those with “good problems” and what ends up happening is that one decides to ‘wing it’ – go to a college where boyfriend could easily reach or a job to an office which has a nicer appeal to many. Many advise on what to do to get better, but few advise on what to do when you have done well.
I was lucky to start early. Like a story book, I was out in primary school by age five and a half, finished my bachelor’s degree exams before my 22nd birthday, made Director age 27, and moved to work for an elite global development organization by age 29. Now, married, two homes and 23 countries later.
Enter anxiety. When you’ve been a goal getter all along, the biggest worry is always what next? What is the next goal to go for? What is there to prove? What will give you the satisfaction? Where do you go from now? What does your second thirty look like? How will your third thirty look like? Taking into account the current advancement in science, nutrition and welfare, projected average life expectancy of our generation will be 90 years.
As I am pretty much battling the same questions and anxiety, this article might not provide you with answer but rather give you more angles and framework of thoughts which might assist to inform your thought process. I’ll array my thoughts, personal story and dilemma in three buckets - private, public & status quo.
My first instinct is go towards the path of money. Private sector in our country is still nascent but way better paid. It provides a room for anyone with good talent and right level of effort in ways that you can make a great living in my second thirty and be able to save enough for my third thirty. However, words of my favorite statesman right true on my mind yet again. “The temptation is”, Robert F. Kennedy warned, “to follow the easy and familiar path of personal ambition and financial success so grandly spread before those who have the privilege of an education”. Being of the gipsy soul that I am, my mind sets itself a much more ambitious goal telling me that the private sector world might be less exciting compared to what I am working on; after all it will be all about chasing money while life has much more than that to offer.
My second instinct is public office in effort to do “more good for the many”. I am relatively young and perhaps still time permits me to accommodate more risk - why not run for Parliament and try my luck? Who knows where the public office route will take me? While the thought is noble, it might equally be self-serving. My “risk-o-meter” tells me it is not prudent, perhaps a feat for an older age - if I never try, perhaps I will never get to find out. Aristotle tells us "At the Olympic games it is not the finest or the strongest men who are crowned, but those who enter the lists. . .so too in the life of the honorable and the good it is they who act rightly who win the prize”.
My third option, hopefully not my last, is maintaining status quo; remaining where I am, digging deep, and enjoy the “economies of scale” that comes with longevity in any organization, other factors held constant. The only challenge with this approach is that, for any sharp or smart person, status quo feels like inaction and staying put ends up translating as “missed opportunities”. This even causes more anxiety and more so comes the newest phobia “fear of missing out”, where your brain bring into sharper focus the perception of what you are missing out there (for me in private sector or in politics) rather than what you already have going on.
Now, borrowing a leaf from a person who has gone through a similar journey and recently wrote a book full of guidance which I highly recommend (“Ubishi: Komaa na Maisha” by Costantine Magavilla), life should have a balance between pursuit of money, power, respect and a life of service. Your decision of which of these options you’d pursue in your next thirty might stem from which of these paradigm you’d want to follow.
The second route, perhaps for more risk junkies is what I’d call “the Tiger Woods path”. At some point I was fascinated as to why Tiger Woods never remained the world No 1 all along – after all it is the same golf ball, the same golf courses etc. I came to realize that Mr. Woods has a philosophy to his game. He learns what is called a trajectory, which means a style of hitting the golf ball, and he spends two to four seasons perfecting that style while winning many championships. By the time he gets to the top of the table, he starts all over again, he learns a new trajectory and so on. That way, he has been able to be World No 1 dozen of years and never got bored with the game. If you are good at marketing, why not try a career in media or development. If you’ve been a great analyst, how about spending your next 10 years in tourism or go into government.
Charles Darwin offers an interesting proposition which I think is worth exploring. Darwin developed a reputation as “someone who kept thinking about the same question long after others would move on to different and no doubt easier problems”. For me, this mean digging deep, remaining on what fascinates you regardless of the outside noises. Sometimes the right thing to do is nothing.
My last but not least offering would be what I call “turning to God”. For some of us who have placed our approach through life as pre-deterministic and preordained by God, movements in career mainly come from where God wants to send you. Becoming more spiritual, prayers, meditation and hearing those signals could be the decisive factors for decision making when faced with a good problem
Deciding: You are right either way
For me, service remains top of my agenda. Since I can’t become a priest, my love for beauty and worldly pleasures won’t let me, giving back to my country is something I have desired to do all along. In the field I’m working in, I can serve my country well and that gives me the enjoyment and adequate satisfaction. For you, the option might be different - and you are still right.
My first thirty taught me a couple of things; first, you have no idea how kind life might be to you at a certain period in time. When time and opportunity come, make good judgements at each point, while being wise and living graciously. Second, don’t overthink when you have too many good options, the best decision might be to be patient - keep doing the good you are doing and wait. Third, as you enter your second thirty be aware that whatever you do in it should be able to sustain you in your third thirty - so be smart with your health, your money and career decision.
I wish you the best – and hope to catch up again, if God wishes, in 30 years.
By a pen name: John Ramadhan