When we talk about leadership and development, we often talk about being on a path. We all understand that a path leads somewhere; you can’t start a journey without that proverbial first step. But I don’t think we talk enough about taking a good look at the current path we’ve been on—for it’s rarely a path that we would have chosen or mapped out.
How often do you look back at your life and say, “Wow, look at how I got here!?” If you had read a preview of how that trip was going to turn out, you might have chosen to take a vacation or have had another drink. We tend to forget that our careers (and our life, for that matter) never proceed in a straight line; there are bumps, dips, turns, and seemingly instant acceleration. It’s important to remember that when you do find yourself in one of those right turns, or your life is accelerating at a numbing rate, that you have been there before and you may need to take a quick timeout.
The goal should be to reach a point where most things in life are not a surprise. Easier said than done, I know. But as you plan your career or your business goals, you need have an asterisk on your plan that says “You want to go here; you will adjust on the way.” Develop the perspective that your career life is an adventure, and you will take things as they come while trying to navigate the path you feel led to be on. This will reduce your frustrations and your “holy cow” moments, and hopefully provide you with the understanding of which turn or adjustment is the right one.
Every year when I reflect on all the things that have happened and what I’m doing now versus what I thought would occur, I usually chuckle (and sometimes cry), but in the end I’m glad that I’m still around to do something I love. So when I plan my next steps, I go into it with all my past experiences and hope that it will be as painless as possible, full of joy rather than gnashing of teeth, and with the expectation that somehow I can help make this world a better place.
Idealistic? Naïve? The answer is up to you. You have a choice on your “path” to be prepared for the twists and turns ahead. Will you be prepared for the inevitable, or will you let it derail you? I say, welcome the challenges and whenever possible rejoice in what’s going on. It may sound strange, but those turns in the road are what define you. We learn best from our mistakes and failures and how we handle those hurdles. Expecting them is not a pessimistic perspective; it’s a proactive approach from a position of readiness and strength. Welcoming them isn’t masochistic; it’s having the mindset that you intend to learn from each and every experience, no matter what, and that you see it all as a great adventure. So put on your seat belt and welcome the future—and know that it will be different than what you think.
Life often takes us on unexpected pathways. Take time to reflect on the path you’re on and how it’s different than where you thought you would be.
Some Additional Tips:
1. When planning your year and/or setting goals, make time for reflecting on where you have been or where you are going. This journey often needs slight adjustments, be ready to make them.
2. As cheesy as it sounds, be prepared for detours, your attitude and the way you handle those bumps are what affects your enjoyment and satisfaction of your work and life.
3. Pay it forward. Sharing this perspective and what you have learned from the last turn in the road will often help someone else avoid the same pitfall.