One of the first things my daughter said when we told her we were moving to Italy was, “Mom is going to be so bored.” At this point, I had developed somewhat of a reputation for being busy all the time; work, shuttling kids to activities, grad school, and just general life. I assured her that I’d be just fine and was perfectly happy to entertain myself in Italy. Then, someone else said the same thing. And then someone else. And then someone else. It just kept happening. Evidently, the general consensus was that I’d go out of my head if I didn’t have an 18-mile to-do list.
Most of the conversations went something like this:
“We’re moving to Italy!”
“Oh wow, that’s incredible! Congratulations! How?”
“My husband got a job transfer there.”
“Amazing! What are you going to do over there?”
“I’m not sure yet.”
“Oh, wow. Will you be ok? You’re going to be so bored.”
Even after we landed in country, several of my closest friends and family reached out to see how I was coping. “How are you handling having so much time on your hands?” they’d kindly ask. The caring was very much appreciated, but it was concerning that they didn’t think I’d be able to manage a few open hours without going berserk.
To be honest, it was an adjustment. My husband pointed out that I paced a lot… like a wolf in a cage… But here’s why I’m ok with that: because I know it’s sign of what’s coming next.
Back when we first moved to Washington, I never thought I’d become a publisher, or a PR rep, or a Communications Director, or that I’d work in transit, or get to push forward cool new clean energy technologies like wave induction charging and hydrogen. It was all a wonderful surprise that unfolded along the way.
I don’t know what will develop here in Italy, but I’m excited to see it evolve.
I was reminded of this in a recent conversation with a friend’s highschool daughter who was concerned that her peers know what they want to do “when they grow up” and she doesn’t. I can’t recall exactly what I told her. I hope it was helpful. But if I had the time to really explain, here’s what I would have said:
Some people know what they want to do right away, and that’s great. Some of them do it, and some change their minds and find other interests instead. But, truly, most people don’t know what they want to be when they grow up – even when they are grown up. Instead, their career path is like a journey. They find opportunities and areas that spark their curiosity as they go along. And that’s a pretty great way to evolve, living like an explorer.
You open up new doors and delve into new options, not just in high school or college, or in the early years of a career, but every day – all along the way.
I had the good fortune to be a journalist for a number of years with my main focus on the humanities and individual profiles. Not only did this give me license to ask very interesting people whatever I wanted, it also allowed me to see how their path had evolved to get them to the noteworthy place they then inhabited. There are some incredibly fascinating people who knew what they wanted to do from the start, but in my experience, the vast majority of highly accomplished and noteworthy individuals played their career (and life) like an explorer – following their curiosity, adapting, seizing opportunities, and making it up as they went.
Now, that’s not to say you shouldn’t prepare yourself or that you should sit around and wait for the answers. That would be idiocy and – that’s not what explorers do. Explorers pick a path that sparks their curiosity, set off down the road, and if needed, reroute along the way. Even if the path is circuitous (the best ones usually are) you end up farther along than if you’d just sat at the starting point, waiting for insight to strike.
Don’t be afraid to pivot. Or diverge entirely. It’s a wide and wonderful world out there; who knows how far you’ll go?
This is true no matter how old you are or where you are on your journey. I’ve really come to believe that the key to success in life is not the innate ability to excel, but the flexibility to reinvent or rediscover oneself along the way.
At every juncture, you are presented with an opportunity to set off down a new path; the proverbial road diverging in the yellow wood. When you leave home for the first time, have your first long-term relationship, experience a breakup, start your career, move, get married, get divorced, change jobs, receive a diagnosis, take that promotion, have kids, graduate kids, retire – all pathways leading to wonderful new possibilities, if you choose to stay open, flexible, and follow where the road may lead. Explore, follow your curiosity, rediscover yourself; not changing yourself, mind you, just following new paths, and seeing what grows along the way.
Sometimes I think it’s hardest for people who haven’t had much practice reinventing themselves like that; people who held a continuous concept of their own identity, right up until they’re forced off the path and must find an entirely new identity for the first time. It’s much easier, and better, if you do it all along the way.
To me, Walt Disney said it best:
“Around here, however, we don’t look backwards for very long. We keep moving forward, opening up new doors and doing new things, because we’re curious … and curiosity keeps leading us down new paths.”