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You Were Smarter When You Were Six

Rehan Choudhry, founder of the Life is Beautiful festival, on separating work and fun. He's the keynote speaker for the upcoming academic induction ceremony, Aug. 21.

Campus News  |  Aug 3, 2015  |  By UNLV News Center

Rehan Choudhry (courtesy photo: Emily Wilson)

Editor's Note: 

Rehan Choudhry, founder of the Life Is Beautiful festival, is one of the featured speakers for UNLV Creates, which will be held at 9 a.m. Aug. 21 as part of new student Welcome Day. The series of talks emphasize the importance of creativity, inspiration and discovery for new college students. The entire campus community is invited to attend. Here Choudhry talks about the pitfalls of separating work and fun.

I was 6 years old when I started struggling in school. Every day after school, like any other kid, I would spend time doing my homework. But homework was more than just a couple hours of focused study time. I really struggled.

I still remember the day my mother came into my room to check on me. She found me jumping on my bed pretending to play the guitar while screaming the chorus of Guns & Roses' "Sweet Child 'O Mine" at the top of my lungs. I struggled to stay focused, and I had a hard time retaining the information. Yes, I reassured her, math, English, and history were all important and I wanted to be an A student. I secretly daydreamed of playing guitar in a band, but I knew my impromptu air-guitar jam sessions were just for fun.

Fast forward a few years. I am 23 years old and graduating with a degree in computer information systems. I spent the last few months preparing my resume and rehearsing interview questions. I was certain of where my life was heading: I was going to become an IT consultant for a large company.

Why did I choose this career path? For starters, that was a direction my university and family pushed me toward. Secondly, given that the IT sector was the fastest growing industry at the time, that seemed like a well-respected route to take.

I did my research, applied for every job out there, and told my story over and over again until someone hired me. I was focused, with one little thing distracting me. I was a DJ and a promoter at the biggest nightclub in the city. I still dreamt of being on stage in front of thousands of people -- but, of course, that was all just for fun.

At 25 years old, I decided to go to graduate school. I wanted to be a senior executive for a Fortune 500 company. I wanted the title, the responsibility, the respect, the corner office, the custom suit, and the Maserati parked out front. That was my new goal in life and every decision moving forward would revolve around that.

I studied like crazy, graduated from school, and landed corporate job at a large company. The next four years I worked intensely, got promoted several times, and made it up to the executive office level. To become an executive, I was told, you need to have a well-rounded understanding of all aspects of business. So I focused all of my energy learning finance, accounting, management, marketing and operations. I was a rising star for the company, and my dedication, drive, and 14-hour days never wavered.

With the little spare time I had left I would take on side projects. I founded a food and wine festival and produced fashion shows, sporting events and, of course, concerts. While working on these side projects I found myself having the time of my life, which made it that much easier to focus so much time on my primary goal of executive stardom. I mean, at the end of the day, those side projects were all just for fun. Right?

Apparently not.

By age 32, I found myself completely lost. On the surface, things were going really well. My career was progressing at an incredible pace, I'd earned that executive role I was so dead set on capturing, and I'd racked up accolades. Yet, I felt like a failure.

I found myself with no sense of purpose or passion. I wasn't inspired. I was reacting to anything that was thrown my direction but spending almost no time thinking about the future. It took some time to figure out what was wrong and even longer to realize how far back the issue began forming.

At the age of six, I began separating what I was supposed to be doing from what I wanted to be doing. Studying versus rocking. IT consulting versus club entertaining. Corporate strategy versus event planning. I had done such a good job of convincing myself that work and passion were of two different worlds that it never occurred to me that I was failing miserably at both. I was putting 90 percent of my effort into a career I cared very little about and 10 percent into music and events, which I was truly passionate about.

It took me some time to realize that becoming a festival and experience producer was my true calling. I had to unravel years of conditioning that music, events, festivals, and the like were nothing more than a hobby. I had to understand that being a corporate executive is only an aspirational and respected job if you actually love it. Lastly, I had to understand that I had to listen to my heart.

From six years old, I wanted to entertain people. Whether it is on stage, as a club promoter or a festival producer, I truly love creating entertainment experiences for people. Now I am the founder the Life is Beautiful music and arts festival, and am in the process of starting my second company to bring even larger experiences to people around the world. The only thing that kept me from starting this 30 years go was my own limited perspective on life.

So what is the takeaway? Be sure to prioritize -- and reprioritize, if need be -- your life. As a UNLV student, you are in a special place in life. Your next four years are focused on your personal growth. Spend 50 percent of your time in school trying to figure out your passion so years later you don't come to a realization like I did at 32.

What would the 6-year-old version of yourself want you to become? What makes you smile when no one is looking? What makes you wake up earlier in the morning and stay up later at night? You likely already know what this is; now you have to figure out what to do with it. Once you have it in your head and are feeling all warm and fuzzy, spend the remaining 50 percent of your time learning how become the best in the world at it.

You are going to constantly evolve as a person; that is a fact. I no longer want to be the guitarist for a rock band, but I cannot imagine not being part of the entertainment industry. The more experiences you have and the more you learn, the more that unexpected opportunities will open up for you. In the meantime, be the most passionate version of yourself, take risks, and change the world. I am not the only person who believes you can do it.

Your 6-year-old self does too.