How I Found My Next Big Thing
Watch the full TEDxBrownU Video here: https://www.ted.com/talks/julia_xu_the_next_big_thing/
What do you want to be when you grow up?
It’s a question I’m sure we all remember being asked a million times when we were kids. From childhood, we’re taught to know exactly what we want. We’re taught that there is only one thing, one career choice and one path that can make us happy. We’re taught to dream but to stick to one dream.
And we’re supposed to believe that this is “the thing” we have to pursue for the rest of our lives.
That’s a lot of pressure to put on a 5-year-old! As I’ve grown in my career, I quickly realized that it’s not about finding “your thing.” Heck, I’d even argue that we are way too complex to have “one thing.” It’s about pushing yourself to continue growing and evolving so you’re always finding your “next big thing” and never staying stagnant.
Here’s how I continue to find mine.
Our society loves labels. They’re easy to digest.
Oh, you’re an accountant, great! A chef...how fun! You’re a mom; that’s an incredible job...your kids are really lucky to have you.
But when I roll up to the party with a “Hi, I’m Julia, I’m a serial entrepreneur, a start-up business consultant, a digital nomad, and a “corporate dropout.” I start to lose people. It’s too many titles.
The truth is, if I were to niche down to one title, it would feel like I’m losing a lot of who I am. I can’t be one thing.
In college, I started a nonprofit called Tink Knit. It’s an ethical knitwear accessory brand that financially empowers low-income single mothers through knitting.
And I loved it! I was in my happy place.
As my senior year approached, all of a sudden, all my friends around me started applying to big-name corporations. Everything from consulting to finance to tech. I felt this immense pressure to do that, too, because apparently, your post-grad worth is defined by a glamorous job title and a lucrative salary.
At the time, corporate felt like my “Next Big Thing.” It felt like my big break. So I gave in and started eyeing the corporate latter.
Chasing the glamour
I first worked for McKinsey management consulting for a summer, which was probably one of the most sought internships at Brown.
So at that time, I thought, well, goal accomplished. My life is all set!
I then came across my dream job, to work for Disney corporate after graduation. Thinking I will literally be in the happiest place on Earth, I seriously thought that I found “my thing!”
I ended up building the global financial model for Disney+, its new and exciting video streaming service. I learned so much yet still felt really empty inside. I was craving more impact and variety.
I then got the opportunity to join Alibaba North America as Chief of Staff, thinking that this role will answer my cravings for change. It would be hands-on, and I would LOVE it.
At 24, I traveled to China every month from New York and participated in all of the senior executive meetings. I had a glamorous title and a great career path ahead of me.
This is that “Big Thing.” This is the climax that people dream about, right? For some reason, that little voice inside of my head wasn’t validating me.
The AHA moment
I found myself biking through Manhattan in the rain, contemplating my life. I know, so rom-com, but trust me, it wasn’t romantic at all.
That little voice inside of me again was saying, “This isn’t you.”
I had flashbacks of this happy and fearless girl I used to be in college and couldn’t recognize myself in the cold winter streets of New York. I thought I had figured out a perfect path to success, but I suddenly realized that I was only just starting to figure out what I wanted in life. So I began to seriously ask myself questions and actually listen.
And the answer was so different from the path I was currently on. So much for me finding this “Big Thing.”
So I quit my job again. And no, this time, I didn’t have another one lined up.
I decided to take a leap of faith and throw myself into the unknown, trusting that I could only really figure things out if I let myself explore without any constraints, labels, or backup options.
Instead of believing in security, I decided to believe in myself.
The leap of faith
After I quit, I had over 100 networking coffees in 20 days. I was high on caffeine and decided that becoming an independent startup business consultant was my “next big thing,” and started breathing personal brand 24/7. At first, I was terrified.
What if no one wants to work with me? What if I end up not making any money? What if I made a huge mistake and completely ruined my own life?
All these thoughts played on repeat in my brain.
And then one night, I woke up in a cold sweat telling myself, “Julia, if you gave up that perfect career path thinking that you can do better on your own, you better go prove it.”
I ended up kickstarting my consulting business during COVID. I built over 100 financial models in less than a year. I doubled my past corporate salary and got consistent overflowing client inbounds without ever spending money on marketing.
Although I may have achieved my initial goal, I was exhausted, burnt out, and still unfulfilled.
So I stopped and asked myself, “Is this really ‘the thing?’”
That’s when I started multitasky – a lifestyle marketplace for fun & multi-functional home and office products that empower female go-getters. We officially launched in December 2020, and it’s been a huge rollercoaster of emotions.
From initially learning how to build a Shopify store myself, to establishing my own international sourcing and fulfillment system through my Alibaba connections, to figuring out the full customer acquisition and retention funnel, to growing a virtual team of dozens of contractors from all over the world, to outsourcing the day-to-day tasks and automating the processes, to getting our first legit warehouse in California, to finally seeing good numbers but striving to see even better numbers…
It’s been the most stressful yet meaningful three months of my life.
But back to my original question, is this “my thing?”
The real AHA moment:
There is no thing!
All this time, I was chasing a destination, a solution, an award, a title, a dream or a goal. And then, when I got there, I felt like something was wrong with me or missing.
Life is constantly moving and shifting, and when you reach your “happily ever after,” life continues.
So next time you think you have it all figured out, give yourself permission to change your mind.
Changing our minds is normal, and we need to celebrate it.
There is no correct way to live your life, and what you believe to be “correct” may change as you grow.
Perhaps right now, getting that dream job is all you want. Or perhaps, quitting that corporate job is all you need. You may constantly prove yourself wrong, start again, find yourself wrong again, and get back up again.
The most important thing is that you dare to say no to things that aren’t working, whether it’s a miserable job, a toxic relationship, or a bad habit, so that you can get one step closer to figuring out what might truly work for you. Then move over to the path that feels right in the present moment.
You have no idea what you’ll want in a few years, but your inner voice knows what you want right now.
And what it’s saying to you...that’s your next big thing.
Now, go chase it!