I am firmly convinced there are no straight lines. The goal may be clear – a speech, successful meeting, signed contract — but the path rarely maps with the project plan. A colleague once told me she kept on course by reminding herself to enjoy the process. These days, I try hard to apply that formula to both my work and my life.
A friend whose long career includes a Fulbright at age 67, assignments on four continents, a tenured professorship and a close network of fascinating friends told me recently that he realizes now that he was just “stumbling along,” working hard, yes, but seizing opportunities and accepting setbacks as they appeared.
Another term for “stumbling along” might be innovation. A client of mine sells small-batch Irish whiskey, and as I listened to one of his distillers talk about merging technology (containers, process) with the centuries-old tradition of whiskey making, I thought, “no straight lines, ” rather a series of trials with error and the occasional stellar success. How many times have we heard the homily: many of life’s failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up.
As much as I think I would like a “happily ever after” plot line, admittedly, it’s been the bumps in the road that have taught me the most and made the trip interesting. I certainly didn’t plan to take a career hiatus in my 50’s to care for my parents, but I did, dialing back my professional activities and focusing on managing their finances, medical care and stops at more “care continuums” than I care to count. It didn’t make me rich, but it gave me a sense of compassion that I never would have gained in the corporate world.
Remembering this, I remind myself not to panic if the plane is cancelled or a stray dog appears on the doorstep just as the project is due. It’ll be okay; there are no straight lines.