“I want to work on policy for the federal government,” replied a bubbly twenty-something friend at a holiday-themed cocktail hour. She and I were talking about her career moves. Within the past thirty days she’d pivoted from wanting to attend law school to enrolling in a masters program for paralegals. I have to admit this pronouncement rocked me. Her spirited response came after I finally asked, “what is your dream?”
Policy? I wanted to scream, ‘then why have we been talking about law school non-stop for half a decade?” Maybe you’ve lived through this. LSATs. Law school comparisons. Admissions requirements. The prospect of huge tuition payments.
When I pressed her on the paralegal decision she replied, “I’m not giving up on law school. I’m hoping this will differentiate me when I apply.” Really?
“Reach for the biggest thing you can imagine,” I (almost) pleaded. Thank you Novofemina for emboldening me. I shared with her my concern of pedaling backwards on her dreams, particularly less than a year after graduating from undergrad. She is one of the few graduates that I’ve encountered who landed a job almost instantaneously following graduation. Not sure she really needs a ‘differentiator’ for her law school application.
She was excited and energized by her newly minted direction. I was stunned. More importantly….the conversation’s paralegal bent caused us to veer away from talking about the policy dream. Our conversation ended before we could ever get back to the dream. Sound familiar?
Why is it always easier to see a circuitous route in others versus ourselves? Is there a benefit to detours?
Steven Jobs espoused following ones curiosities. His most enduring strength? He had an over-arching goal: he wanted to change the world.
So too the guys who started Google. Steven Levy, author of Google’s early days retelling In The Plex, shares Sergey Brin’s and Larry Page’s dream: to index everything. No boundaries. The entire planet of information. Their notion caused them to technically design and act in a way that didn’t always work but always stayed true to their simple, powerful purpose.
I remember going through an exercise in the early stages of my transition. It was called Appreciative Inquiry. The process, adapted from corporate organizational development techniques, engages participants to value strengths and envision the future by drawing upon a broad set of positive life experiences.
During the 2+ hour workshop a sentence popped out of my mouth that I hadn’t said for almost twenty years. It went something like, “I want to be a visible female leader.” I also immediately conjured my rationale too. After college I participated in a number of women’s advocacy groups. My observation at the time was that few would make an impact. Sadly. My thought process was to go get a degree (thanks, HBS) and use it to be a positive role model. To go after the change that many of these not-for-profits sought but from a different angle.
The specifics of my realization aren’t important. The twenty year gap in this dream is. Detour? Not sure. I think it’s been closer to a Jobs’s-like enrichment experience. No question….I’ve definitely lost sight of it at times.
Not too long ago I attended a friend’s graduation from Simmons Graduate School of Management. It was at Northeastern University‘s auditorium because Simmons didn’t at the time have any place to house such an event. The student graduation speaker referenced Dorothy and the Wizard of Oz in her closing remarks. She said something like, ‘Dorothy always had the ruby slippers she just needed the confidence to use them.’ Not sure of the validity of Oz’s feminist themes but the speaker earnestly linked courage and dreams and purpose.
Would it surprise you that my cocktail party friend was teary as I told her that I believed she could do anything? Had someone, even herself, convinced her otherwise? Did any of your detours start in this way?
For 2013 I wish for you an anchor…to anchor on as big a dream as you can imagine. I also hope that patience and courage serve as heavy chains for that anchor so that you never let go. Happy New Year.
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