Career Paths & Straight Lines

“The shortest distance between two points is a straight line”  

I suspect most of us have heard that before.  How many good things in life REALLY follow a straight line?  As I ponder that question, I think the answer is “very few”.  There are a number of reasons for that.  Often we don’t know where we want to end up.  Sometimes we don’t know the starting point.  Some journeys are more fun when we go on detours or the curving path.  Some things we want to accomplish have forks in the road.  It sometimes takes discipline and sacrifices – that we are not prepared in the moment to endure – to go on the straight line. So we all end up on detours or alternate routes – if we ever get to that “second” point.

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Straight Lines and Careers

I read a blog post by a blogger named Greg Simpson titled “Most Career Paths Don’t Follow a Straight Line—Turns Allowed”.  In it, Simpson wrote the following:

These days, it’s not hard to find people who feel they are in the wrong job. Or, they’re at the right company, but in the wrong department. Or in the right department, but they have the wrong job description. The big challenge is finding a way to get out of something you don’t like, and into something that brings you career fulfillment.

One thing that says to me is that a detour, or a curved line, or some different path might hold the answer in a career search.   My experience working with people who have been let go or have quit their jobs, the straight line often beckons.  The person is looking for what is next – and they want that to happen in the shortest distance.  Rightfully so, they are anxious to get back into the workforce and to make money.  Too often, we focus on whatever “straight line” comes up at the moment.  But sometimes rashness and going straight ahead are the enemy.  Taking the time to think about whether that last job was in the “wrong department” or “wrong job description” (to use Mr. Simpson’s words) might prove quite beneficial.  Building awareness around a career plan is a key to getting to the next step.

Straight Lines and Life

The same principles apply to life decisions.  We want to get from here to there.  But sometimes “there” is ill defined (“I want to be healthier”).  Sometimes “there” is hard (“I want to buy that new truck or new home but I don’t have the money right now”).  Sometimes the space between here and there is filled with mountains, cliffs and dark places. But often those issues can be overcome with some thinking and awareness.  So, is there some part of your life where you are so focused on getting to the next point that you have not stopped to think about the best way to get there?

Steps to Deciding Your Path

  1. Understand your current starting “point”.  Do you really know where you are today, in the present moment?
  2. Clearly define where you want to go.  We often have a notion of where we want to get to.  But taking time to probe that end point often clarifies it (“I want to go to New York City” becomes “I want to see Times Square” or “I want a job that uses my skills” becomes “I want to be a project manager”)
  3. Take time to consider the shortest route.  Is it a direct route (“I want to move from marketing to sales”)? Or might it require a few detours or turns (“I want to move from my current job to owning my own business”)?
  4. Consider the obstacles in the path of your route. Lewis and Clark were asked to find a path to the Pacific Ocean. They took a lot of turns to get there because of mountains, the direction that rivers flowed, and where food was.
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Positive Energy

This post is a little out of the ordinary for me.  But the feeling is so strong that I feel compelled to write about it.  We all hear and read about having a positive attitude providing a more healthy and satisfying life.  I am fortunate to have a lot of good things going in my life that afford me the option of being satisfied.

But I’ve had a couple events happen in the past few days that has amped up my positive energy in a way that I have seldom experienced.  That has led to some good results. networking power

First, a friend helped me talk through a fundamental concept that is going to have a massive change on my Career/Life Coaching business.  I feel we made a real breakthrough in helping me better explain my value as a coach. I feel like I have something tangible that I can share with potential clients that explains the value of my coaching services.  It has allowed me to bring together a number of different ideas I have had into a complete package.  Where will it lead?  I do not know. But I know I am excited and really engaged.

Second, I have been mentoring at a local high school since October and enjoy it.  Mentoring is not necessarily something that you can point to accomplishments or understand exactly what difference you are making.  But I have had four freshmen boys ask to join my mentoring group because they heard “guys were getting better grades” who were in the group.  That’s results.  Freshmen boys willing to spend 1-2 hours per week with me doing school work after school hours?  Maybe I am making a difference.

Third, I have made a concerted effort this year to get out to meetings and network with others to expand myself.  I am learning more about the issues others are facing in the job search market.  I am making connections with people who can connect me to others.  I have no idea if this will lead to more business.  But I am vastly expanding my contact list and I feel like I am helping some people out.  It is invigorating. What is really cool is that I know that the exciting activity in two paragraphs above only happened because of people I did not know at all one year ago.

So how long is this positive energy spell going to last?  I have no idea.  But it is a great reminder that progress only comes about when you have a network of ties that you build.  Is there someone you have not been in contact with for a while?   Is there some group you could reach out to for support, inspiration or ideas? Why not reach out to them?

Limitations

Do you ever set limitations on yourself like I do?

The mind is a wonderful thing, but it does like to put limits on us. I find it really interesting the way we set limits on ourselves.   It seems to be natural to say, “I can’t do that”.  How about, “I don’t like dealing with money”?  Or, “I wasn’t built to be able to do something like that”?   At times it provides a convenient excuse, “I won’t try it because I know I won’t be good at it”.  But what is the cost?  Does that self limitation keep us from helping others, or trying some new task or exploring something that sounds really fascinating but challenging?

If we don’t put limitations on ourselves based on our own self perception, we turn to comparing (and limiting) ourselves to others, “I’m not as good as . . .”  It is so easy to compare ourselves to someone else and say we could never match their skill.  So, we don’t even try.  For example, my wife, Rose, has many more friends than me, so it is easy for me to say “I could never be as friendly as Rose”.  Then, it becomes a self fulfilling prophecy – I can use the I-am-not-as-good-as-so-and-so as a convenient excuse.  I see people doing it all the time with fitness.  “I could never be as dedicated as Dean”. Maybe not, but I don’t think that is a good excuse for not trying.

Having written all of that, to quote Clint Eastwood as Dirty Harry, “A man’s got to know his limitations”.  There is nothing wrong with recognizing that you might not be the best at something.  But if something is important to you, or to your personal advancement, how about trying to be the best you can be?  I get beaten by a lot of runners in my age group at road races.  I know others have more talent than me.  Maybe some of them have better training habits. But because running is fun to me (yep I’m crazy) and important to me, I constantly am looking to challenge myself. If I am able to get the most out of me that I can in running, then I have done some good.

I’ve tried something similar lately with engaging more people. On Rose’s Outgoing Scale, our son Stephen is a 12 on a scale of 1 (very introverted) to 10 (very extroverted).  Rose is an 8 or 9.  She and I agree I am a probably a 5 or 6.  So, perhaps I am never going to be the most outgoing person. I won’t be the person everyone knows and remembers. But I am working hard on trying to get better at it.  Maybe I can become a 7 on Rose’s scale.  I am not going to allow the limitations I have placed on myself in the past to limit me in the future.

So, what is something important in your well-being that you are allowing YOUR MIND to limit you?

The Better Question to Ask?

I read an article by a person named Mark Manson that got me thinking.  The gist of his article is that we are asking the wrong question when we say “what do you want out of life?”.  He thinks we ought to be asking “what pain do you want in your life? What are you willing to struggle for?”  He feels that way “because that seems to be a greater determinant of how our lives turn out”.  He goes on to say we all want a great life, but questions whether we are really willing to sacrifice for that great life.  Asking ourselves his alternate questions really gauges our commitment.

Interesting thoughts.  Of course, we all want good things out of life – a great spouse, health for our family, a good paying job, security for old age, etc.  So it is pretty common when you ask someone what they want out of life, you get a stock answer.  Ask yourself the question and you would probably get a common response.  Many of us have relatively simple needs.

I think he has a great point to make.  Because everything worthwhile requires some pain (I would prefer to use the word “sacrifice” instead).  Rarely is everything given to us.  We have to sacrifice, or trade off , something we want later for something we want now.

For example, many people would say they “want a good paying job”.  Why not?  It pays bills, allows you to enjoy the finer things in life and gives you pride/status.  To get that job, you might need to get  a lot of schooling (running up lots of debt) and to do well in school.  You probably have to start at a lower-level job working long hours doing tedious work. You might be stuck in an office or a city where you don’t want to live for a while.  You endure endless meetings and have to interact with some people who are jerks.  It generally takes a long time, with lots of choices you wouldn’t necessarily make, to get to that “good paying job”.  Are you willing to put up with that pain?

The writer goes on to lament “There’s a lot of crappy advice out there that says, “You’ve just got to want it enough!”. People are exhorted to  keep going.  Follow your passion.  Work hard and you will get your reward.  But there is something missing.  The key word in that first sentence is “enough”.  You got to want it enough.  The “enough” takes time.  It takes a willingness to do something despite all of the costs (usually in delayed gratification).

How many people do you know  say they are pursuing something (a job, a romantic relationship, a desire to lose weight) but never getting to that destination?   Perhaps the sacrifice it takes to get to there is more than they are willing to give.  We all do it.  That is why I think the question he poses is relevant to all of us.  If we find ourselves pursuing some goal but getting frustrated because we don’t attain it or you are getting ready to tackle something, ask yourself how much you are willing to sacrifice.  Maybe put the sacrifice and the pain in writing   That might tell you all you need to know.