Who Are You And What Do You Want To Become?

Written by Debra Olshan Cooper,
President and Founder of Your Career Design lab

Throughout the past four years of starting YourCareerDesignLab I have come to the conclusion and realization that we grow up not knowing who we are. Our “stories” are those that were taught, assimilated, coercers, convinced, and told that when we get into our 20’s, 30’s, 40’s, and up to our 60’s, the search is on. To find who the f**k we really are.

I have had the amazing opportunity to dig deep into young and old people alike, pondering that question and now asking, Who Am I and What Do I Want To Become?

Here are several stories of some of my clients who decided to excavate themselves, dig deep, and came up with epiphanies that took them on the journey now to becoming what they are meant to become. I have changed the names to protect their privacy, but their stories are all true.


Susan came to me through her mother, who was worried that Susan, in her mid 20’s, was having an identity crisis. She had done extremely well at her college in Boston. Actually had worked for a well-known psychologist as that was her major and had planned to go on to get her Master’s and Ph.D. But after school ended, thoughts of being good enough to achieve her set goals crept in, and she found herself stuck. Stuck to the point for the past 4 months, she laid on a couch watching Netflix, unable to move really.

When we started to work together, Susan talked to me about her dreams, her aspirations, and her goals but didn’t know where to begin. I practiced NLP ( Neuro-Linguistic Programming) to help her with her limiting beliefs. From there, we dug up her passions of loving baking and cooking for family and friends. After we crafted a resume that spoke of her passion and her culinary pursuits, she landed a job in the kitchen at a well-known high-end restaurant near where she lived. She loved it, she learned, she grew. From there, she was asked to help in a bakery where she learned how to make bread that serviced all the bakeries and restaurants in NYC. Now, after two years of having experiential experiences, she NOW has decided to explore going back to garner her Ph.D. in Psychology and become a life coach for young adults like herself.


Bruce was a young man attending college and, as a junior, decided to become an accountant. We discovered that throughout his life, especially in middle school, when his professor said he would be good in accounting, he persuaded it. Unfortunately, he did not know the first thing about applying or what was necessary to apply for an accounting position, and so throughout his life, he had only worked as a bartender and a caddy. A far cry from accounting. But through his excavation, he found out that he did, in fact, use accounting in his bartending job by setting up outside seating when patrons were waiting long hours for their table. He was able to create a way of enhancing the bar’s income by creating a seating area where patrons would order drinks and light bites prior to being seating. This brought in additional revenue for the company. In addition, Bruce was a connector and loved talking with people, which made him a perfect candidate for becoming an accountant and working with clients. All to say, by connecting his past, he discovered that it was his football coach, who also happened to be his math teacher, that changed his trajectory.


When Tisha went through her excavation process, she dug up some real dirt. When she spoke about her upbringing, it brought tears to my eyes. But her grit and determination inspired me. I showed her that her background led her to look at monies as a way to freedom and independence. Her passion is to bring that same financial independence to clients should she get the job. Again through her Grit, she enrolled in an accelerated program at school, worked full time, and now was applying to accounting careers as well. But now, instead of her narrative being one of negativity, remorse, and jaded, she was able to turn her background into the fertile ground of planting the seeds that would help her to become the success she was destined to become.

All to say, your background, your upbringing, and your stories are the threads that weave your story. Without knowing your story, it is pretty difficult to walk into a career opportunity, and when the preverbal question arises, “Tell me a little about yourself,” and you start to rattle off, “ I just graduated from the University of Virginia, I have a 3.5 GPA, I worked at… You can now tell your story that actually tells volumes of who you are and from that place where you are going by what you have been working at.

Don’t be afraid to find out who you are. The good, the bad, the ugly. When woven together, it makes a beautiful tapestry that is uniquely yours and that you can blanket the potential employer or business with. Dig deep, excavate, discover and recover your past so that you can reframe it and picture yourself in the future you are meant to have.

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