People often visualise their careers as a journey along a path. Usually the image conjured is a long and winding trail. Forks in the road represent alternative choices. The gradient could represent how hard we have to work for our rewards – an uphill struggle versus coasting downhill. Sometimes we run into obstacles. These can be random, natural occurrences — a fallen tree, a flood — but sometimes it’s other people who are standing in our way — a roadblock, a check-point, a gatekeeper. Other road users may try to push past you or elbow you out of their way or trample right on top of you. Sometimes it feels like everyone else is on some invisible travelator while your sluggish and laboured steps take you no further forward. Sometimes you are lost.
This is how my career felt until very recently. I felt like I was sprinting down the path, though not getting much further. I really wasn’t sure where I was going, but it was taking a lot of effort to get there. Then I came across a wall. Tall, solid and full of foreboding. The first time, I went around it. This involved a detour into a ditch of despair (aka a string of all-nighters) but I made it to the other side. As I moved on I couldn’t help but glance back at the blockade and wonder what it meant.
Soon after, I came across another wall. Then another. Then another. Each time I would go around the wall, but it got harder and harder to find my way back to the main path. Soon I couldn’t seen anything ahead but walls, all the way to the horizon.
Then the next time I came to a wall there was no way round. All sides were blocked and it went off to infinity to the left and to the right. I had no choice. So I went through it.
Bursting through the barricade I found I had entered a world where there is no path, only wide open space. I can do anything I want. It’s so simple but so powerful. I feel so free and open and light – weightless almost. Like a bungee chord tied to my back has been cut and I am able to run forward or backward or to the side, unencumbered. I feel like I’ve swallowed the red pill, but reality is so much better than the collective hallucination.
I’m off the path; there is no path. Instead I find myself on the edge of my known world, looking down the cliffside onto the sparkling sea of opportunity. I am ready to jump; I want to jump. I can’t wait to get going, to start the business that I lie awake thinking about, the one I used to furtively research in between meetings and in the cab-ride home from work at 2 in the morning.
So why haven’t I started it yet? What’s with all this self-exploration and contemplation? If this was my dream — my true passion — shouldn’t I be getting on with it already?
I’m thinking of it as acclimatisation. I am letting it sink in. I am getting used to my new-found freedom; my life without a path. I am savouring the delicious moment. So I am cooking and sleeping and seeing friends. I’m writing and reflecting on my journey so far.
This is my moment of calm before I start running again, although this time in no particular direction. This is my deep breath before the plunge. And, I’ve got to say, it feels pretty good.