Who Do You Want to Become?: Moving From Old You to New You

…there’s a crucial difference between deciding what we want to be and who we want to become.” ~ Marshall Goldsmith

One of the books I’ve read this summer was Marshall Goldsmith’s The Earned Life: Lose Regret, Choose Fulfillment (Amazon Kindle link). Goldsmith is a world-renowned executive and leadership coach. In his latest book, he urges us to live an “earned life” where “the choices, risks, and effort we make in each moment align with an overarching purpose in our lives, regardless of the eventual outcome.”

Goldsmith offers a LOT of information in this book in terms of aspiring for a preferred future; as well as tools to help both define and obtain that future; and the value of niche specialization (“One Trick Genius”) over broad generalization.

One of the critical features of living an earned life is aspiring to virtues and values that get us to where we want to be. 

“Deciding what you do each day is not the same as who you want to be right now is not the same as who you want to become” (Goldsmith’s italics). “…[D]eciding who we want to become is like adopting an ideology or credo for our life, a single premise that we rely on to interpret our past and determine our present and future.”

We ask the wrong question — of others and of ourselves. Instead of “what do you/I want to be when you/I grow up,” we should ask, “who do you/I want to become?”

Our life, and career, paths are not necessarily specific destinations to achieve. Instead, they’re more likely to unfold as we undertake our journeys, with branches and tangents along the way. If we focus on the values and virtues of who we want to become, it will help make decisions about which branches/tangents to follow, much easier.

Action, Ambition, Aspiration

Goldsmith notes that there are a trio of independent variables that govern the progress we make toward the life we choose: action, ambition, and aspiration.

Action is what we’re doing now. It’s the specific daily tasks we undertake that reflect conscious choices.

Ambition is what we want to achieve; the pursuit of a defined goal.

Aspiration is who we want to become; the pursuit of an objective greater than a defined goal. It doesn’t have a clearly defined finish line. It’s a continuing act of self-creation and self-validation. 

At its core, Aspiration is an act of privileging your future over your present.

It is all about learning to care for something new in our lives. To move from one level to another and to continue building on each level we attain. 

When these three independent variables become interdependent, serving one another, our lives can be more fulfilling


In the course of a lifetime, we experience episodes when one phase of our life ends and another begins. Some of them are predictable markers of modern life: graduation; our first “real” job; marriage; our first house; parenthood; divorce; career success; career failure; the loss of a loved one; a lucky break; a big idea. 

These transitions can be exhilarating or confusing; they can be opportunities or crises; turning points or setbacks. They don’t depend on a replacement reality waiting in the wings. One door doesn’t necessarily open when another closes. We’re in transition automatically when some part of our life ends.

We all have a unique set of criteria for defining the turning points in our lives when we begin to disengage from our previous selves and start to accommodate the new person we want to become.

Why Does It Matter?

As Goldsmith mentioned, we all go through many transitions in our lives. Most notable for many of us are career transitions. By asking ourselves who we want to become as we transition from one aspect of life/career to the next, we have a greater chance of being fulfilled. 

What do you think? Can you be more aware of your life/career transitions? Can you focus on who you want to become as you move from the old you to the new you? Do you have a set of virtues and values that guide you to a more earned life?

Email me and let me know. I want to hear what you’ve got to say. I can be reached at scott@scottwoodardcoaching.com.

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