I’m currently reading “The Art of Work” by Jeff Goins (I received an opportunity to read the advanced copy via my network – thank-you network!). I’m only part of the way through it, but it is proving to be a very good read and I encourage others to pick it up as well. It explores the dynamic between what we do for a living and our “calling” (at least so far, I’m sure it has more to reveal in future chapters). What I am captivated by at this point in the book is how well the author makes the case for what we inevitably end up doing professionally. It’s an evolution, not a straight line.
This is something many of us know from experience, but may not be able to explain clearly to anyone else. How is it we’ve come to do what it is we do? Is this it or are there future iterations of our professional lives that will take us to new places? “The Art of Work” demonstrates that it is entirely up to us, but all the planning in the world may not prepare you for getting there, or where you ultimately end up. Often when I work with clients who are looking for career coaching they are hoping there are steps they can take, a plan they can build and a logical way to get where they want to go (or find where they want to go). They are ready to put the effort in to get there; they just need a “map”. Possibly this is a product of the way we learn in school (learning plans are articulated to students, basic project planning is taught in elementary schools, etc.); it’s also a reflection of the way we move things forward in business, or the visible way we move things forward in business, with “visible” being the operative word. What we don’t see (and what can often be so difficult to articulate to others) is how failure, wrong turns, “wild goose chases” and interesting (if brief) network contacts inform our path (and are often rendered invisible because they are not things we would typically give weight to or share with others).
What the book articulates so beautifully is that plans are good, they can work, but being open, curious and ready to explore ad hoc opportunities is more typical of the way we find our “calling” and ultimately ourselves. Anyone who is living his or her dream today likely didn’t see it clearly in the years before they got there. However, the easiest thing to say to others when they ask how you figured it out is “I just knew”. It saves sharing a series of possibly weird (and long) stories and is (in part) true. We do know when we’ve found what we are meant to be doing and it does feel like we knew all along that this is where we were meant to be, but the path to get there wasn’t likely a straight line nor was it clear at the outset. I spoke with colleagues about this concept and the majority of us agreed, in fact we did some “napkining”, which is to say we traced our individual paths literally on the back of napkins and it proved Mr. Goins’ point. All of our “paths” took some interesting twists and turns. None of our initial post-secondary education was towards what we were doing today (although in all cases it was a worthwhile investment) and many of us hadn’t even heard of the profession we are working in now when we were going through the exercise of figuring out what we wanted to be “when we grew up”. We all had points where we needed to make decisions between different options. We all came to our professions through a myriad of network contacts, once-in-a-lifetime opportunities, failures (even being fired from a job for poor performance in one example from a colleague) and a sheer determination to find the place that would be the best use of our cadre of skills, energy and initiative. What it wasn’t for any of us was easy. It required fortitude, perseverance, strong listening and observation skills. It also required faith in ourselves and our own abilities.
Callings are called that because they are “calling out”, but only when we listen to what may already be there for us to hear. To put this another way, finding your path can be a lot like looking at the stars on a clear night; it’s vast and unfathomable how big the universe is, and plotting our place in it can be daunting. However, if you leave yourself open to exploring you will find the right place to be at the right time, it is an evolution and who knows what amazing things the future holds. In looking back though, you can plot the path you have taken so far and if you choose to engage in this bit of reflection (maybe you too will use a napkin), it will look a lot like a constellation emerging from a field of stars. Not a straight line, some double-backs and interesting shapes, but a picture emerges. It is the picture of your life so far, what is it showing you?
You can hear Carleen speak at the Institute of Professional Management Annual Conference in Ottawa on April 16th On “Women in the Workplace; Why Gender Diversity Programs Fail To Meet Targets” (http://www.workplace.ca/events/event.php?id=164).