Guiding Mid-career Professionals to Jobs They Love

Out Beyond Your Headlights

A recent post, How to Start, by my friend Phil Bolton of Less Ordinary Living got me thinking. In his post, he shares his struggles writing his blog posts and ponders what it takes to overcome the hurdles and get started.

At first, I reflected on my own writing process, the fits and starts I go through writing blog posting and content for my newsletters, workshops, exercises and website. But after the initial chuckle of recognition wore off, I found myself reflecting on how getting started in writing is a lot like getting started in other parts of my career and life.

While I was reflecting, I picked up one of my favorite books, Bird By Bird by Anne Lamott and skimmed through the chapters. In my flipping, I found a quote I’d never noticed before. Lamott references E.L. Doctorow who is quoted as saying, “writing a novel is like driving a car at night. You can see only as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way. “ The quote hit me like a ton of bricks and I couldn’t help but whole-heartedly agree with Lamott’s remark that this was the best advice she ever got about writing and life.

Even if you only have a vague idea of what you’d like to do or where we want to go, get started. Drive the first 200 feet and see where it takes you. See what your headlights illuminate in those first 200 feet. There may be a bridge out that forces you to turn around or find a new path. There may be a crossroads that forces you to make a new choice. But you might also find a road sign that says you’re on the right track.

My mind jumped back to Bolton’s blog, “The blank page. The blinking cursor.” They mock us when we’re trying to get started and can defeat us if we let them. Too often we believe that we have to know the whole story or the destination in order to write the first word or take the first step.

The same can be said of our careers. For many of us, the blinking cursor is the daily grind of waking up and going to a job we detest. The blank page is our deep desire of wanting a new direction but not knowing what our new destination is. We feel mocked. Eventually we feel defeated.

But if we go back to the words of Doctorow, we can find liberation in them. It’s not necessary to know the final destination. Perhaps it’s not even possible to know exactly what the final destination is. All we can do is shine those headlights and see what the next 200 feet reveal to us. Slow down. Explore. Take notes.

What clues can you find in what you see in front of you?

  • In what’s working and not working in your current job.
  • In what you like to do & dislike doing.
  • In what you’re passionate about.
  • In what you have a natural talent for (and what you don’t.)
  • In what your preferences are for the ideal environment that will nourish you and allow your best to shine.

Follow the signs. Take it one exit at a time. Correct your course along the way. Make a left turn if your attention is grabbed by something you like. Trust that you will make it to your destination by progressing 200 feet at a time, no matter which direction you take. You may find that the destination changes along the way. That’s ok. The key is to get started and keep taking it 200 feet at a time.

Action is the best way to overcome the overwhelming paralysis we can often feel when it comes to making a change in our careers and lives. What are the next 200 feet of the road ahead revealing about your final destination?

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