“Lead me, follow me, or get out of my way” — Finding your new path …

One of my favorite sayings is “Lead me, follow me, or get out of my way.”  As it turns out, this is a quote from General George S. Patton, and it bespeaks both patience and impatience — at least from my perspective.  It conjures up impatience at obstacles, be they human or inchoate ones, such as indecision.  Yet, it also conjures up the patience to follow a true leader, once he or she emerges.

So it is with transition directions, you know the right direction once you’ve identified it, but you sometimes need a muse or guide to get you to that point.  Sometimes that GPS route finder just doesn’t cut it.  As described in my last blog post, this was my dilemma, and it was not resolved until I had a long, hard look at my bookshelves and queried them as to where my heart’s interests lie.  Figuring that might not work for everyone, I started querying my Colgate sojourners for their advice.

Jack Blanchard, ’60, says, “Don’t be shy, and reach out.  It will evolve.”  He recommends that seekers talk with all of their contacts, their interesting contacts, and see what they do.  “[I]t’s almost instinctive,” he adds, saying “we need to connect the dots to blend the discoveries of what others are doing.  Nothing is more important than reaching out and making contacts to follow the thread of what others are doing.”

Your contacts will help you orient towards your own true north.
Your contacts will help you orient towards your own true north.

Jack believes there is a core of creativity in every Colgate grad, saying you didn’t get admitted to Colgate unless you have it.  That creative tinder will be sparked by your contacts with the folks you admire, and create a fledgling flame that, when stoked, becomes your next exciting transition.

The creative flame
The creative flame

The right transition path, he adds, involves something you would love to do, something you think would be really interesting to do.  The questions that naturally arise include things like what would it cost, or what would it pay, or how could I do that?  But you can’t let the cost or ‘how to’ questions slow you down too much since there will always be “financial surprises.”

When he was researching his own transition from public relations professional to therapist, Adam Sachs, ’85,  took comfort  from a study that showed that those making a transition eventually wound up back at their old income levels.  Indeed, many found themselves making more money.  https://midlifedude.wordpress.com/2015/06/27/yolo-dont-fear-the-late-career-change/.  All the more reason not to get stuck on the question, what will it pay?

jigsaw puzzle money
Don’t get too hung up on how the financial end of things will piece together.

Jack rightly notes:  “The scary part is the ‘what if’s’ but the problem is if you don’t evaluate the other paths, in spite of the ‘what if’s’, you will wind up hating yourself, you will pay a price for that indecision.”   And the price you pay is a soul-sapping one that takes its toll over the long haul.

Diane Danielson, ’89, has a system she recommends to folks who are stuck that reminds me of some of the exercises in my how to books, only her system is a lot simpler.  She recommends that you write down three projects that you’re really proud of.  They can be work related, volunteer projects, or hobbies.  Write three paragraphs about what you liked about those three projects.  Common themes will emerge from those ‘likes,’ and they become the core of your next endeavor. Diane has a friend who used this technique and quickly realized that teaching was a thread than ran through all three of her favorite projects.

Another test Diane employs is to look hard at what you like to do in your free time.  Whatever that is reflects the type of work environment you need.  Diane continues to play soccer.  She plays all positions, and will cover for anyone, so she needs a work environment that mirrors that.  Her chief operating officer position is perfect for her.  As COO, she gets the variety of responsibility she craves, with never a dull moment between tasks.

In closing, it bears repeating:  don’t be put off by the challenges posed by your new direction.  Rather, to quote Patton once again:  “Accept the challenges, so that you may feel the exhilaration of victory.”

victory is yours
“Accept the challenges, so that you may feel the exhilaration of victory.” General George S. Patton
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Where are my career path GPS coordinates, dadgummit?!

Trying to Cure the Nagging Malaise or How the “How To” Books Didn’t Help!

I started out my career transition search last summer going down the ‘traditional’ path, looking for a corporate job of senior investigator/compliance professional and was dutifully networking with smart, successful professionals along that path.  After all, it made the most sense given my background.

Come August, however, I realized that as I pursued the ‘traditional’ path, my soul had stayed home … tucked in a corner of my clothes closet, near some smelly old shoes, stultified and out of sorts with my ‘sensible’ plan.  My soul was not in the search.  Exactly what then was I seeking?

I knew only that I wanted to try to leave some small legacy — to leave the world in a slightly better state than I found it in this next stage of my career.  But how exactly?  Doing what?

Many of us have or have had that nagging sense of dissatisfaction with what we’re doing.  A certain ennui that pervades every day endeavors.  It’s like a mild headache, lurking in the background, threatening to become a pounder of pain.  Or it may manifest as a sense of something lacking from life — like going outside and realizing you’ve forgotten a hat on a frigid morning.

It was certainly that way with me, and so I turned, as I often do, to books.  I checked out a half a dozen books from my local library, seeking to find the answer, the cure to my career malaise, the GPS coordinates for where the heck is that road not yet taken that my soul yearns for but my mind is helpless to find. Library stock image

Some books were topical ones on careers that “made sense” as sequels to what I’ve been doing.  Nothing resonated much.

Other books were the ‘how to’ type of guides.  In another era, What Color is My Parachute would have been in the mix.  More than one volume held a slimmed down version of the incomprehensible Myers Briggs test — according to which, improbably, I could have a satisfying career as a bus driver.  Somehow, I don’t think so!

All my ‘how to’ guides had countless questions, like what are your ‘drivers,’ to help you figure out … supposedly … the essence of you and therefore, magically, the next career move that will fit like a glove.  Only somehow I just wound up with long lists of exercises dutifully completed, yet nary a clue as to what career path they led to.

So, clueless and frustrated, I returned my overdue stash of self-help books to the library.library books open

Soul Searching and the Bookshelves’ Testimony                                                         

My soul searching culminated in a contemplative look at my bookshelves.  Contemplation of the bookshelf and the transitory nature of life, especially at this ‘certain age,’ as the French delicately put it, prompted me to set off on a very different career trajectory than the one I debuted with this summer.

Bookshelves don’t dissemble.  Mine (all ten of them) testify to interests of the heart — the books which remain on the shelves after the passage of time.  Interests outgrown over the years have long since been relegated to the used book depository at the library.  Here’s what I found when I contemplated my bookshelf.

My lifelong love of travel and decades long interest in Africa, elephants, and preserving this amazing species dominate my collection.  Iain and Oria Douglas-Hamilton’s Among the Elephants cozies up to a stunning color plate edition of Isak Dinesen’s Out of Africa.  Laurens van der Post’s Walk with a White Bushman elbows C.G. Jung’s Memories, Dreams & Reflections, while Beryl Markham’s West with the Night reminds me that I have yet to learn to fly.  Cynthia Moss’s Elephant Memories speaks to this magnificent animal’s displays of grief, compassion, and playfulness.  And a call closer to home, the Letters of E.B. White bracket the Africa collection, a steady reminder that the powerfully well-put word can change the course of history in small and large corners of the world.

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As of this writing, more than 30,000 elephants are killed by poachers every year — one every 15 minutes.  The number of Asian elephants today is a scant 50,000.  The African elephant population has dropped from 1.3 million in the 1980’s to 419,000 today.  They are slaughtered by poachers herding them by helicopter, toting automatic weapons.  Two species of rhinos are already extinct with two more alive only in captivity.  Other species are threatened daily, as are the anti-poaching units who protect them.  And the fruits of the poachers’ blood sport provide the fourth largest funding of international terrorism, after drug running, gun smuggling, and human trafficking.  Now, there’s a compliance issue that grabs my heart and soul.

Happily, as I explore this new and seemingly improbable career path, I find that my skills are abundantly transferable.  In fact, it’s such an obvious next step I wonder why I didn’t see it ages ago.  So, I have finally found my path, but Lordy was the process a painful one.

In making my own way, I realize that pondering one’s bookshelves may not be the trigger that works for all of us when chewing on the intractable and supremely important question:  where next can I apply the handiwork of God-given talents I have been blessed with?

And so, I have been posing this question to my network of fellow Colgate sojourners, and their wisdom will be the subject of my next blog … for those of you whose bookshelves don’t testify as loudly and clearly as mine did.  Rest easy, our transition network has sound advice for those of you still seeking your next path.  We can perhaps help you find your own soul-inspired way to leave a legacy for those we love and ultimately leave behind.  A way to leave our planet a better, prettier place.  A fairer Chenango Valley, if you will.