Have you ever gotten lost before? Most people have, such as, taking a wrong turn when driving somewhere. Others have been REALLY lost, like in the wilderness on a hike, or a long camping trip. One thing is true in either scenario: staying lost is not an option. You have to find your way back: back home, back to the car, or to wherever you were headed.
I have found this is not so in one’s career. Often, it seems our careers drive us versus us driving our careers. Imagine driving places the way we do in careers: just hop in, start driving, assume we’ll get somewhere we want, end up getting lost, but just keep driving anyway. With this lack of planning ahead, we’re almost certain to get lost, or eventually run out of gas. Maybe in our careers we get used to the slightly wrong circumstances. After enough time passes, that lost feeling becomes normal. We don’t ask for directions, or pull over and look at a map. We stay lost.
Getting really lost, like in a wilderness scenario, is akin to spending years floating about in our careers and now the wrong path has grown exponentially. The sense of panic and disorientation can overwhelm. Now there are real consequences, and we have to do both crisis and long-term planning.
We need to develop a habit of getting back on track before we’re really lost. Additionally, as leaders, we need to find ways to guide others: steer people away from a wandering state and to a more purposeful state that is on the right path. You can tell if people are lost.
Leaving home for an unknown destination, or a campsite without a map and provisions is pretty much unheard of. Such should be the case with our careers, too.
Hang in there with the car and camping metaphor for just a bit more — let’s pretend you’re lost, but think of your career, and you need to get back on the right path:
- Admit you’re lost. I find the longer I pretend I’m not lost, the more lost I become. Rarely does one just stumble back to the right road! If you feel you took the wrong turn, immediately ask yourself, “What can I do now to get back on track?” Take one small step toward that in the next week.
- Identify where you are now, and start from there. I like the “re-routing” function on my car’s navigation system. It doesn’t do me any good to plot a map starting from home. I need directions from where I am now. Just accept where you are now, either as a blessing or learning, and take small steps forward. Maybe someday they’ll invent an application with a nice computer voice that tells you, “Wrong career move,” and where to go next. For now, you’ll have to use that little voice inside.
- Where are you going? Just like in cars and hiking in the wilderness, we don’t go ahead aimlessly. Choose a destination. If you don’t know what to do, spend some time on the Knowing Yourself First (Parts I, II and III) series. Remember, driving and camping take planning, so does a career!
- Gather provisions: What will you need for your trip? Gather network contacts, knowledge, financial resources and other necessities for your journey.
- Hit the road: Start the car, or zip up the daypack and head out. Any journey is much more enjoyable with a little planning, but you need to start to get anywhere.
“We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be.” ― Kurt Vonnegut