There are times when someone takes an interest in you, sacrifices enough of themselves and their time that it unsettles the world as you know it. These conversations and actions stand out, lasting for months and years, remembered not only through the message but every little detail of the moment. The way we stood when speaking or the desk where we read the email. The time of day and smell of the room when someone passed along that earth quaking news. Sometimes they know it, often they don’t. It’s these colleagues, friends, and mentors that often present our destinies, even if we still need to reach out and grab them.
Life took a bit of a detour the day I boarded an eastbound plane after seven days on the west coast. When we hit cruising altitude I opened my notebook and began to plan. My budget, schedule, and career were all on the table. I wanted to enter an industry I knew little about, just bits and pieces gleamed throughout the week, but there were jobs and potential and that was enough. This brought me face to face with my priorities. Social standing, a generous salary, career knowledge; I’d worked myself into a strong spot but somehow a few days made me question it all.
Until that moment, my goals were clear and focused. I had occasional “career” conversations with colleagues during my first year working, attempts to understand and plan my future, but most felt forced. They were probably insightful but either I was afraid to hear the truth or thought I didn’t need the information. As the saying goes, it’s just as important to discover what you don’t want to do, and it’s clear now that I had it all figured out. But I’d put myself into a corner, a future I thought was clear could have been reshaped through those conversations. Instead of receiving advice with openness and curiosity, I forced a personal narrative, one of discontent. It was a mechanism to explain my escape, an escape I discovered during that week long trip. To this day it feels like an opportunity lost.
And so I sat there, staring down at the Rockies, my heart racing from the experiences of only a few days. The lack of clarity became abundantly clear. I discovered a new path calling my name, a road I had never considered and all of a sudden my certainty in the future faded. Nearly seven years later, it’s the release of control, not knowing how I would fare and going for it, that has proven to be the greatest benefit.
As one does, I bought a few books to start learning and researched jobs. It became very clear, very quickly that I didn’t know squat and was completely unqualified. Bouncing around LinkedIn made me nauseous. People several years younger than me had the skills, titles, and resumes I now wanted so badly. I knew it would be an uphill battle, but this was more than I might be able to handle. Doubt crept in and I wondered whether the switch was really worth it.
My new plans would obviously be a long road, started a few years later than I preferred, but luckily some past battles provided the confidence to keep the kindling lit. Previously I may have sat idle, but something had changed and I had a gained a strong belief that this was the right choice. Every day in which I didn’t move toward my goals was a day wasted. Not progressing was losing ground. I needed to be learning, growing, and improving, and was willing to get in touch with anyone who could bring me to that point. It wasn’t easy, I was still the awkward kid who could barely take advice from colleagues, so keeping my focus on the prize became an outlet. If I knew where I wanted to be and could explain my deficiencies in getting there, I could talk evenly to those people I admired most. They weren’t heroes but paths to imitate and learn from.
Naturally, I started close to home, reaching out to friends and family that could make connections. A friend of a friend was forwarded my plea and thankfully responded with advice. The two of us have met a few times over the past several years, oddly brought together by relationships outside work. But in that first email, as I read it back, it’s amazing to me how simple a lot of the information feels right now and how undeniably insightful it was at the time. He offered a few small anecdotes about his own experience entering companies where he didn’t have the ideal background and how he leveraged that position to keep learning. More than anything, he was proof that my goals were reasonable. He wasn’t on the lifelong track for this career, but managed to make it happen, and every detail about the process made that clear. Even more, he put me in touch with another guy who had a very similar background to me. More tips and anecdotes, plus a choice quote that I’ll never forget (“This is kind of inspirational: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q6NpHbMFaQ8”).
At the moment I reached out to these guys, I was still working in my previous career and hadn’t mentioned my plans to my parents. It was a pipe dream that I was playing around with in my free time. But I’d gotten perspective and admitted I couldn’t do it alone. It took a few months, but I’d put my ego to the side and begun to listen. Only a couple emails, positive and confident, convinced me that there was nothing impossible about my dreams. Rather, they were attainable and spelled out in front of me. Aside from their climb over a few years, me and these two guys weren’t very different. They respected me and were sharing what information and guidance they had. It’s an attitude I’ve passed along any time I have a chance, recognizing that I’m no more impressive or gifted than the next person, but in some cases I have an experience to share. Throughout those conversations, both for myself and others, it’s apparent that good advice is only as effective as one’s openness to accept it. I’m glad I reached out for a hand, and while it was a couple strangers who reached back, they pulled me up just the same.