I recently read a story about Kurt Vonnegut, the author of Slaughterhouse-5. Apparently when he was 15, he spent a month working on an archaeological dig. He was talking to one of the archaeologists during a lunch break, who asked those kinds of ‘getting to know you’ questions you ask young people: Do you play sports? What’s your favourite subject? Kurt told him “I don’t play any sports. I do theatre, I’m in choir, I play the violin and piano, I used to take art classes.”
The archaeologist said, “Wow, that’s amazing.”. “Oh no, I’m not any good at any of them,” Kurt replied. The archaeologist said something Kurt never forgot and blew his mind because no one had ever said anything like it to him before: “I don’t think being good at things is the point of doing them. I think you’ve got all these wonderful experiences with different skills and that all teaches you things and makes you an interesting person, no matter how well you do them.”
Part of losing your job, and searching for a new one, is working out what you really want to do next. You can only know that when you have experienced different things, learnt new skills and found out what you really enjoy. Explore, fail, smile and move on.
So much of life today is judged about winning, being the best, getting to the top. But surely this misses the point entirely about existence and the root to deep joy? Sure, acknowledgement of achievements is ego boosting but for most winning, and being at the top, is short lived. There is much to be gained by simply trying new things, meeting new people, exploring new experiences and searching for answers. You don’t need to win, to be the true winner. I’m a big believer of broadening one’s horizons, exploring what we enjoy, and are good at, with real vigour and curiosity. Not being afraid to fall over takes a deal of self confidence but also provides a real sense of personal agency.
Anyone who has been on a training course will know that you only truly learn a new subject when you apply what you have read or been shown in the classroom. It is the same with career development.
Like many, by force of circumstance, I am in a period of transition. I have the opportunity to do something different. After 25 years running in one direction, I have a once in a lifetime opportunity to pivot.
It’s not easy. Putting myself out there, meeting new people, and doing different things. Things I feel that I should enjoy, and feel confident in, based on past experiences, and learnt expertise. But, nevertheless feeling more vulnerable than I have felt since I was a teenager going on my first proper date. Clumsy, nervous and a bit foolish. There is no corporate closet to hide in. No natural, pre-ordained path up the organisation. Progress is on me.
At some point, something will stick in my tentative explorations, and new adventures will begin.
Hopefully, it will be doing something that I enjoy, am good at, and can make a living from.
Serendipity, that elusive match maker, will surely come into play with this hapless 45-year-old adolescent job seeker, as I actively fumble my way forward to a new future.
I suspect Vonnegut’s archaeologist got it right. Even if I go back to a new job in my old career path, I’ll be a much more interesting person for exploring and having new experiences. It is in this sense, that you only truly learn by doing.