What direction are you headed?

I have a dear childhood friend who knew the path he wanted to take the minute he graduated college. In fact, his path was set in high school; go to the college your parents attended, join the fraternity your dad was in and follow the career path of the family business. My buddy even married his college sweetheart he met the first week of school as a freshman. 27 years later, he is still going strong down the same road.

I used to envy him. He had everything so well figured out. He never feared a thing because he knew the direction he was headed. It did not matter if it was a well worn path that his dad and other members of his family took or that it was one of least resistance, creativity or excitement. He looked ahead and never back. I truly respect him for that.

I, on the other hand, have taken a “road less traveled.” My path has been one of ups and downs, lefts and rights and sometimes I have had to move in reverse and change direction altogether. It has been exciting and frustrating all at the same time. I have made great money in lousy jobs and have been underpaid in roles I loved. I have quit, been fired and have been recruited away. I have been a “road warrior” and a desk jockey and everything in between. My path was not predetermined for me; parts were well worn by some and others I forged on my own.

When I was interviewing with the CEO of the company I work for today, he asked me a question that forced me to look back and comment. Did I have regrets? Did I wish I had turned right instead of left? Did I make a mistake exiting one lane too soon and not staying on the road longer? Maybe I would have moved up the mountain faster, higher and found what I was looking for all along.

Maybe… Who knows… To paraphrase a comment I have read; life is about choice.

We are the sum of our choices and most of them are made for us. You can’t choose when you’re born. You can’t choose where you’re born. You can’t choose your family. However, you can choose your work in the world and the path you take. Careers are made by results and relationships. Whichever direction you take, always deliver. Do what you say and say what you do. Enjoy the scenery, forge professional and personal relationships and nurture them. You always need your network when you least expect it.

Your career goes by fast and it will surprise you when you least expect it. Somewhere along my trek, I discovered my strengths and everything changed. Like a rookie NFL quarterback who finally sees the game slow, I saw it too. I thought Marketing was my calling, that is, until I discovered my skills for Operations and “fixing problems.” It started by turning around a handful of struggling teams, then a division or two and finally a small company.

It was easy and fun; I was hooked. I was an “Ops guy.” Go figure…

Did I have regrets? Yes. There is no question that I have second guessed my career navigating numerous times. I told him so. Yet, I have to honor the path and the lessons learned. I have gained tremendous knowledge and insight throughout my career and somewhere I stopped living in fear and started seeing the whole field.

Careers never stop changing and growing. They evolve and morph and are the sum of the choices we make. My career is not unlike that of my friend. It may have had a few more bends, curves and hills to climb, but is mine and still going strong.

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