Welcome to the third in a series of three columns on Career Coaching that asks you to take a look at your own career as a journey. A journey is defined as the act of traveling from one place, stage, or experience to another. This movement or progression is influenced by your APTITUDE (awareness of where you are, the knowledge of where you want to go), and the ATTITUDE and skills you carry with you. These subjects were covered in installments 1 (January 19, 2011) and 2 (April 3, 2011) and place the main onus for the success of your voyage on you. Well, as any of us who have planned vacations, gotten stuck in traffic, or broken a heel running across the street know, other elements beyond our control also affect our travels. And thus ADAPTABILITY is a key factor in our success.
“We plan, God Laughs.” — Anonymous
Many people, including most of the coaches I’ve met, are of the opinion that “everything happens for a reason,” that “there are no coincidences,” and that “we make our own luck.” I do not share this perspective. Nor do I think obstacles are placed in our path just to inconvenience and aggravate us (despite what my mother says). I believe that random things happen because there are billions of people on this planet traveling different paths at different speeds and often with conflicting attitudes and aptitude. We can either see them (or the circumstance) as an obstacle that has ruined our journey, or we can respond by seeking alternative opportunities to move forward.
“In the middle of every difficulty lies opportunity.” — Albert Einstein
Although I don’t feel that everything that happens is necessarily “for the best”, I do believe that every moment, planned or unplanned, has the potential to be a learning or growth opportunity. They say that great acting is not about how actors deliver their lines of dialogue, but how they listen and respond to the actors around them. How do you react to your environment, to the unexpected, to disappointment? No consistent answer exists to these questions as every circumstance is different. We handle some situations more effectively than others depending on our investment in the process, the intensity of the problem or whether we had our morning coffee.
“Opportunity is missed by most because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.” — Thomas Alva Edison
Think of a time in your life when you were on a path heading in a specific direction and something happened to interrupt your plan. Did you continue to pursue the intended outcome, or did you “let it go” and move on to an alternative plan? Now think of a time when you made the opposite decision. Either reaction is a viable option and brings its own set of possibilities and limitations. That is why I think regret for missed opportunities resulting from “problem” circumstances is a waste of time. The choices that we make are based on the information (and emotions) we have at that time. We don’t know what we don’t know, and hindsight is 20/20. The key is to grow and learn so that we might handle the next situation a bit more effectively and adapt more quickly.
“When one door of happiness closes, another opens; but often we look so long at the closed door that we do not see the one which has been opened for us.”
— Helen Keller
What one can regret is not creating or seizing opportunity when it shows up. Often new possibilities are missed because we are so busy following our map and focusing on our destination that we forget the values that motivated the journey. We say we want to travel so that we can see different sights, but we neglect to look out of the window when the plane takes off or the train leaves the station. We push ourselves to succeed at work so that we can have more time and money to do the things we want, but we spend our evenings and weekends worried about work and time just passes us by. What opportunities have you created for yourself by diverting from your initial agenda, going outside of your comfort zone, or reexamining your values?
“The pessimist sees difficulty in every opportunity. The optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.” — Winston Churchill
Sometimes opportunities are thrust in our path in the form of negative outcomes that we somehow turn to our advantage. These reactive opportunities require effort and adaptability. But many opportunities can be created when we take the leap to proactively pursue something that was further down our life plan or wasn’t even part of our itinerary. A healthy attitude and good skills will help you maintain a steady pace on life’s path, but sometimes it is the risks that you take when you explore new territory that can transform your journey into an adventure.
“If you prepare yourself . . . you will be able to grasp opportunity for broader experience when it appears.” — Eleanor Roosevelt
Whether opportunities arrive out of unexpected circumstances or conscious choice they are part of our journey and become what we make of them. And as with the roadway systems that traverse the nation, there are bound to be changes to traffic patterns, new construction projects and unanticipated detours. As we bring this coaching trilogy to an end and finally put the “journey” metaphor to rest, remember that your attitude & values, skills & interests, and opportunities & risks, make up the road that leads to your professional success and personal satisfaction. And despite the condition of the road, you sit behind the steering wheel with only a small mirror to see behind you and a huge windshield to look ahead.