Have you ever tried to briefly recap the journey of your life? Maybe you’re reconnecting with an old friend, or you’re just starting a new relationship – you can’t recount everything, but you want to share it in a way that tells them the important parts, the ones that have really shaped you.
It’s incredibly difficult.
So, what most of us do is simply describe the major points – education, jobs, relationships, accomplishments, etc. But if you listen closely, what you’ll actually hear is a series of endings or beginnings – moments that tell the story of our lives.
“I took the job…”
“I moved to this city…”
“I ended the relationship…”
“I got the promotion…”
Everything else is just the detail of what happened between these moments. Like the dash between the birth and death date on a tombstone, a lot may have occurred in the space it represents, but the details of it are often lost. And when we look back, all that’s left in our memories are these marking points, usually when we began something or saw it end.
This is especially clear when you begin to think about your career. In a commencement speech shortly before his death, Steve Jobs said of his own defining moments,
“You can't connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So, you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future.”
In my own journey, this has been incredibly true – all the endings and beginnings seem chaotic until I look back to see how beautifully they led me to exactly what I wanted.
Here’s just a few of my “dots” to illustrate my point:
Remember, my point isn’t to just share my career history. It’s to make it clear that it looks very different, depending on your perspective.
For most of the people who knew me, it looked like this:
To be honest, this is how it looked to me, as well. And even though there were good times, and good work to do, I often wondered if one day it would all make sense. But as I neared the final two dots, I had a realization.
Every single experience had prepared me for not only the next opportunity, but for what would ultimately become the great work of my life.
When I followed the advice of Steve Jobs and started to look backward, this is how it appeared:
From this perspective I could see that my humble beginning as a musician and performer, taught me skills I would later use as a keynote speaker and consultant. My long climb from supervisor to CEO taught me lessons in leadership that would later be found in the books I wrote and the executive sessions I led. My experience of deep burnout led to the discovery of my purpose and became a pivotal step in my signature program Find Your Fire. And the list goes on…
That’s why I love the cover photo for this blog post.
You have no way to know if the traveler is looking forward, or backward. Are they traveling into the sunrise of a new day, or watching the sun set on a day that’s finished? Does this moment represent the start of a bright new chapter of life, or the ending of an old one?
It all depends on your perspective. And on what you learn.
No matter where you are in your career (or life) journey, I encourage you to try this exercise:
This exercise, completed only a few months ago, led me to the realization that my journey (so far) has prepared me to begin a new chapter as a Coach. Whether I’m building programs like Find Your Fire, writing posts for our blog Around the Fire, serving as the host of our podcast, or helping my clients through one-on-one coaching, I know two things for sure:
Where is your life taking you?
What purpose has the journey of your life prepared you to fulfill?
When you know these answers, you can move forward with confidence, knowing that you’re ready for the next great chapter.