In a post 9/11 world, this may strike most as an odd place to feel secure, but growing up the man at the controls was most often my father when we went overseas. He was an airline pilot until he met the abrupt wall of forced retirement due to a federally mandated retirement age on his 60th birthday. An international captain for TWA in my world from age 3 to age 10, I thought your dad flying a few hundred people to London, Rome, or Barcelona was just like the other kids tagging along to their dad’s office. It was just something you did, it was normal, it was comfortable, and it was safe because my dad always knew what he was doing. At least that is what I believed as a child, mindlessly chattering to my patient mother and anyone else who would listen on the long flights.
It never really occurred to me in those early years that, like the rest of us, it took him a while and a few attempts to find the love of his career life. There had long been evidence that flying was one of the great loves of my father’s life, from cadet training early on, to joining the National Guard in a Helicopter unit, he would do anything that gave him the chance to be in the air. In the years he was waiting for the airlines to lift a hiring freeze, he taught students earning their private pilots lessons, a unique hobby to them was a few hours with his love to him.
The part I often forget when I miss him and think of his adventurous life, is that there were times when he must not have known his path as clearly as I see it. Some days must have left him anxious just like the rest of us. Earlier days when he was a railroad detective, a rodeo rider, scuba instructor, a stock car driver, and a motorcycle cop must have felt a bit like having your shoes on the wrong feet. It doesn’t feel quite right, a little uncomfortable but you could stand it if need be.
It’s easy to look at the lives of someone else, simplify them to a clear path, assume they must have seen it all along the way we see it in reflection now, that all their choices and events were leading them to this beautiful summit that was a definition of their life’s direction, especially when the path we focus on is a career path.
We ignore the setbacks, the questioning that exists for all of us, the nerves, the choices, the insecurities, the days of low pay and long hours. Those days come for us all. Vanderbilt, Ford, Gates, and even Jobs must have all had moments that terrified them when they wondered if their instincts were leading them in the right direction. Many of these successful people hid their fears and insecurities better than average, their apparent confidence a priceless tool to convince others that their ideas and products were worthy. Yet, I would bet every penny that those men had nights where they awoke with sheen of cold sweat painted on their faces and questioned every decision they had made the day before as the minutes ticked away an dawn closed in on them, bringing another day full of decisions to be made.
Looking back on a career is always easier than forging ahead in our own. As I grew up it became clearer that while I saw my father’s career path as straight forward and meant to be, it was unlikely that he had always felt that security. Even in a seniority-based federally mandated industry like aviation there are choices, questions, and hiccups in the path. There are buy-outs, benefit cuts, hiring/promotional freezes, mergers, lay offs, and countless other factors that make a pilot question their career choice.
The beauty of it is that none of us are alone. Career decisions are scary, undependable, and in a state of constant change. The glory of it all is that if we embrace that change, learn to thrive on it, be open to it, and view it as a great adventure we can reach heights we never saw in our future before. When we stop chasing the false idea that a career path will be simple and always secure, banish our notions that our path should look the same as someone else’s we become free to fly.
- Examine how you spend your free time. Is there a pattern that ties to what shape your next career step might take?
- Make a list of the ideas, fears, and perceived social expectations that hold you back, and then cross out the ones that are solvable, blown out of proportion, or easily remedied. The few reasons left are likely fixable, they just involve more time and contemplation.
- Consider the careers that slip past your lips in discussion with comments like “I wish I was a…” “In my next life I want to be a…” “If only I had the idea of being a …. sooner in life” My regular answer to those phrases have to do with wanting to name nail polish or taste ice cream, but in reality neither career would well suit my true interests, some of these comments are more fun to think about than to do, but others may be a helpful subconscious opinion.
- Embrace the idea of change as a constant, once this is accepted everything is a bit easier
- Find a change positive sounding board, be it a coach, a partner, a friend, a family member, or someone sitting next to you on an airplane. We all need to hear our ideas out loud before they seem real and viable. Remember that finding your sounding board may take a few tries, and that is perfectly normal.
Some interesting articles from authors that remind us to enjoy the changes in our careers:
- Forbes “Embrace Change…”
- Elizabeth Gilbert on Embracing your Curiosity
- Martha Beck for Oprah Magazine suggests following your animal instincts to "Find Your Career Path"