I originally posted this on LinkedIn and it doesn’t necessarily have a lot to do with running, but it does contain some of my thoughts about life in general along with a few stories about some of my past experiences so I figured I’d share it here too in case anyone might be interested –
People have different reasons for choosing their majors in college. Some people want to develop the skills they’ll need to get a specific job after they graduate; other people want to learn how to run a business; and there are others who just want to acquire more knowledge about subjects that they feel passionate about. And there was me. I picked my original major in college because I wanted to impress a girl.
I did pretty well in high school – I followed the rules (for the most part), played a couple sports, joined a few clubs, and graduated in the top ten percent of my class. People told me that I had potential to do great things, but I really didn’t know what kinds of things I wanted to do….. And since I had been dating a girl who came from a family of medical professionals, I decided that the best way to take our relationship to the next level was to become a doctor. She loved my idea. So I sat through a few long years of anatomy and physiology and pre-med courses in college until one day I was sitting in class trying to feign interest in a drawing of the human digestive system on a chalkboard when I decided that I simply couldn’t take anymore. So I got up from my desk, took a walk to my school’s administration office and dropped all of my classes.
It was a pretty bold thing to do but the problem was that I really didn’t have a plan B. I still didn’t know what I wanted to do. I only knew that this was one thing that I didn’twant to do. (And don’t get me wrong – I have all of the respect in the world for doctors. Being one wasn’t the right fit for me though and I knew I had to do something about it or risk being miserable forever). My mom was furious when I told her and most of my other friends and family members weren’t particularly impressed with me either. I sat through countless lectures about how I was a slacker and how I was ruining my life and a few people even stopped talking to me altogether. And not only that, but that girl I had been dating? Yeah she dumped me. This was not an easy time in my life.
Eventually, through a little bit of trial and error, I figured a few things out and got a Master’s Degree in Computer Science, which eventually helped me land a job at a telecommunications infrastructure company near Chicago called Andrew Corporation where I helped design a software application that played a key role in helping millions of people in Africa to communicate with each other via cell phones even though they didn’t have access to landline phones. It was a great accomplishment and I loved my job. I had a number of goals that all involved working my way into a lofty senior management position at Andrew and staying there until I was ready to retire. That all changed when Andrew got bought by a competitor though. Shortly after the merger, the new company underwent a major re-org which resulted in my position being marginalized. My job wasn’t in any immediate jeopardy but I could also tell that there was no longer a future for me there (which was confirmed by the fact that management never bothered to fill my position after I left and eventually eliminated it). When I decided to quit though, it was still a tough decision and there were plenty of people who couldn’t understand why I would want leave a good stable, secure job that I had been working at for almost ten years. Once again, I had a lot of explaining to do.
A few years passed and I eventually found myself working for OfficeMax where I played a lead role in rescuing a CRM software implementation that while extremely strategic to the company, had been floundering and hemorrhaging millions of dollars before I got there. I helped to stop the bleeding and turn things around but after a year and a half of 80-100 hour work weeks I got burned out and decided that I needed to move on even if it was just to protect my own health. It was another tough decision for me though that also resulted in a lot of questions and suggestions from people who wanted to give me advice about what they thought was truly best for my career. People who wanted me to stay told me that for as much as I had delivered in the short amount of time that I had been there, I would have job security forever. That turned out not to be true though because less than a year after I left, OfficeMax was bought by Office Depot and after a series of decisions made by upper management that I would have had no say in had I stayed, my old position was eliminated there as well.
So how does this all tie together? In every one of the situations I described above, I made a decision that resulted in my career and even my life in general going in very different directions from what I originally planned. Those also weren’t the only ones and I know there are still plenty more to come. I’ve had other people question my choices and I’ve even second guessed myself at times, but whenever I look back, it occurs to me that every choice that I made helped to bring me to where I am today and I don’t regret any of them. A couple things that I’ve learned through all of these experiences are that I actually like major parts of my life and my career to always be in motion and constantly changing and I’m also perfectly content to have a future that’s not neatly laid out. I’ve learned the value of being flexible and always looking for opportunities to grow and learn new things. I’ve also gained a certain level of confidence in myself since I know that when it’s time to make another life or career changing decision, I’ll make the best choice, even if it isn’t necessarily apparent right away.
My road has definitely not been straight and narrow. There have been curves, bumps, potholes, hills, valleys, and alternate routes. And I wouldn’t change a thing about any of it.