In one of the “last lectures” that I had at Stanford, our professor, Joel Peterson, encouraged us to ask ourselves what we are solving for in life. He continued to push: "what does winning in life look like for you?" I couldn’t make much sense of that question in that moment, and frankly I totally forgot about it right after, but a few weeks later the answer became very obvious to me.
I haven’t really shared this publicly yet, but days after my graduation I put all my belongings into storage and temporarily moved out to Shanghai. It was a rather spontaneous decision, but I had many life-sized questions on my mind – both personally and professionally – and just had to come out here to look for answers.
It all started about over a year ago. Together with about 30 of my classmates, we were standing on the balcony of a restaurant overlooking Shenzhen, a major city on mainland China that boarders Hong Kong. Lined up in a circle, we were putting jade-stone wristbands around the wrist of the person next to us, one by one. And once someone put the wristband around the hand of their neighbor, the person was asked to share what they were taking away from that trip to China.
As my neighbor closed my wristband, I addressed the group saying: "this might be my last day in China, but this is going to be the first day of my future relationship with China.” Fascinated by what I had experienced, I felt a strong desire to make China part of my life’s story going forward.
As I was reflecting about that moment last week, it dawned on me what I was solving for in my life. I was solving for writing an incredible life story. "Yes, that is it!” ... I am not solving for becoming filthy rich. I am not solving for the most impressive CEO-career or being the most social person the world has seen. But one of the things I am solving for in life is to write a damn good story. A story worth sharing. One that has many gripping chapters, full of joyful moments, of adventures from all over the world.
Now what does that mean? It means that one way I gauge the decisions I make by how much they allow me to make this a really interesting life story. Yes, the decision to move out to China on the basis of a simple hunch – while many of my old and new friends stayed in the Bay Area to pursue promising and well-paying careers – was really scary.
But I didn’t let that fear stop me from going after what I felt was the right thing to do. Instead, I told myself that no matter how this China thing is going to turn out, it will make me richer and my life’s story more interesting. Even in the worst case, if I come back hurt, disappointed, and in doubt of my own judgement, it will always be an interesting chapter in this story called life.
Just like the many books we read in our lives, some books we can’t put down after we started reading them. Others we want to put away and just cut our losses as the story doesn’t capture us. We are all given a pen with which we have the chance to write one such book ourselves.
I have decided to write my story the most interesting way I can. One that reflects my love for life, my appetite for risk, my passion for people and my presence in a world without boarders. So yes, winning in life for me means living a life that is a story worth sharing.