When I was in first grade, we had to make a poster board about ourselves. “What do you want to do when you grow up?” was one of the main prompts, to which I said “Pediatrician and Supermom”. I weirdly liked going to the doctor and I wanted kids, so I thought it was a safe bet that no one would question or make fun of me for. Plus, I knew it would make my parents proud. Looking back, it’s a hilarious answer coming from a 5 year old and it exemplifies the amount of pressure I’ve put on myself from an early age.
In college, I changed my answer to, “I want to be an investment banker.” My parents work in finance, it sounded impressive, and it made decent money, so why not? After doing more research and extensively networking, I decided I didn’t like that prospect because the work/life balance is non-existent. It also just didn’t interest me.
I then almost switched colleges to go to medical school, remembering my childhood answer. I ended up bagging that plan because I got scared off by how much time it takes to get into my ideal specialty. It’s definitely good that neonatal surgery requires at least 16 years of study before you can be “free.” But I knew I didn’t have it in me to start my career at 35 with a lot of debt and also somehow have a loving marriage and several children. Major kudos to the women who make it happen, I’m seriously in awe of you and would love to hear your life story.
By the time senior year rolled around, my answer became, “I want to be a consultant.” Most of my peers ended up going into consulting, so it was a practical, secure path that would pay my bills as I headed to New York City. And it checked off the most important box of my loved ones not needing to worry about me.
I started my consulting job in August 2017 and Nat and I started Cup & Leaf shortly after as a side project. Fast forward 2 years. I didn’t like my consulting job and Cup & Leaf’s e-commerce business was doing well enough where we would either need to hire someone full-time or sell it. We couldn’t do it as a side hustle.
By this point, I felt confident enough to take the leap into something a bit less “safe.” I had been working in corporate for 2 years, was (and still am) with a supportive partner, and I generally had my life together. I had consistently shown my loved ones that they didn’t have to worry about me because I could successfully figure my life out. So now was the time to pull the trigger. Now was the time to answer The Question on my own terms.
“I want to be a business owner.”
I left my consulting job to focus on Cup & Leaf. The goal of Cup & Leaf was to make the e-commerce business sustainable enough to focus my efforts on the café and opening several more locations. Long story short, we signed a commercial lease in Austin in February 2019, renovated for 10 months, opened for 3 months, and got hit by COVID-19. That was definitely not in the business plan.
We couldn’t re-open because of the state-wide mandate for a while. And when we could operate at limited capacity or only use a to-go window, it simply didn’t make financial sense to pay someone to be there for just a few customers per day. Our “thing” was to be a tailored, sit-in experience where customers were waited on, and that just wasn’t possible given the circumstances. We would be hemorrhaging more money by giving hours to our barista than if we just stayed closed. Eventually, we had to shut it down.
Around that same time, a company called Sencha Tea Bar reached out to me. We ended up selling the e-commerce company and blog to them. Now that the e-commerce business was sold and the café was shut down indefinitely, I was effectively unemployed, extremely sad, and just plain unmotivated. I sulked and fell into a not-so-great funk for the second half of March through April.
On the bright side, besides handling the last pieces of Cup & Leaf, I had a clean slate.
“What do you want to be when you grow up?” Well, I don’t know.
So I went through a really helpful exercise that ultimately made the decision for me. I simply started a list of the things I really love to do using these made-up prompts:
- What do I do when I’m procrastinating my day job?
- What do I like to do at the end of a day’s work?
- What do I look forward to doing the most on the weekends?
Items included silly things and things that could be harder to monetize like, “read novels, cook, play with my dogs”. But it also included potential career options like, “learn about psychology and relationships (maybe I could become a relationship coach!), real estate (maybe I could become an agent or a developer!), drawing (maybe I could become an artist!)." Whatever came to my mind, even if it was watching reality TV in my pajamas, it went on the list.
After I was done, I noticed that there were a number of items that were closely and loosely related to real estate:
- Finding dream homes/fixer-uppers/normal homes on Zillow
- Pinterest-ing home decor
- Reading DIY and renovation blogs
- Looking for cool Airbnbs in new cities
- Watching Fixer Upper
- Helping my friends find places to stay in Austin when they’re visiting
- Planning dream vacations where we stay at magical hotels
- Bingeing Selling Sunset
- Following social media accounts that are focused on home renovations
And suddenly it clicked. I found my new answer: “I want to be a real estate agent.”
I’ve always been interested in real estate, especially the development/building side of it. I guess it’s a pretty cliché answer, but I have such fond memories watching HGTV with my mom growing up and have always felt an affinity towards real estate.
I just never even considered it as a career path because I was so focused on corporate options. After all, that’s what was strongly encouraged and presented to me throughout my whole life.
So one day in late May, I purchased a course to begin my real estate career. I convinced a mutual friend who was a successful agent to let me work for him for free in exchange for real world exposure as I studied for my license. By September, I passed my exam, became a licensed real estate agent, and joined his team full time.
Right now, I’m in learning mode and I say yes to as many things as I can. For someone a month in, I have a good number of clients that I’m helping with the guidance from my mentor and boss. My husband and I also just bought our first investment property 45 minutes outside of Austin.
Am I "starting over" at 24? Yes. Is that okay? Very. Is it scary and do I get down on myself sometimes? Of course.
But for the first time, I have an answer to The Question that I can confidently give because it’s what I want to do, not what I feel I’m supposed to do.
In the past three and half years post-college, I’ve had three totally different careers and experiences from which I’ve learned and grown. Each one led me to the next and allowed me to gain more freedom and confidence in my decisions.
Who knows what the next three and half years will look like? My hope is that my answer to The Question continues to evolve. Maybe it stays within real estate where my answer changes from “Real Estate Agent” to “Real Estate Developer and Investor”. Or maybe it pivots to a totally different space.
No matter my future answers, I've grown to realize that it’s fun to keep dreaming and evolving, important to pursue my interests, and kind of exciting to not have a 45-year professional plan. And I hope that you, too, can give yourself permission to explore your own answers to The Question.