I was recently asked by a new graduate how I “fell in” to my career and any advice I have for her in her career journey. These were pretty broad questions, but I began to reflect on the different mantras that I go to when I’m in that place of infinite decisions. In fact, this inquiry couldn’t be more timely — I am currently transitioning out of a position doing energy efficiency and behavior research and into a management position in county public affairs. I’m very excited about this opportunity and feel I will be happier working on local issues and gaining new experience.
But this decision was difficult. This new position means switching to a sector where I don’t know the “geek speak” or lingo, where energy issues may be peripheral, and where my knowledge that Minnesota has 187 electric utilities and how to measure behavioral programs will be irrelevant. Needless to say, I’m a bit frightened to not be working on energy, I wonder if I will be happy, and whether I’m closing doors behind me.
I was expressing this worry to a second young woman, a high school junior, the other day (I always enjoy speaking with young enviros wherever I am) at a volunteer event. We were talking about career stuff and I mentioned these worries, and she laughed at me and said, “But Michelle, you JUST said — if you’re ever not happy, you can make a change. You also said that it’s up to you to make the most out of every opportunity. Listen to your own advice.”
So, this post is as much for the two young women I have encountered this week as it is for me as I embark on yet another change and transition.
These are three mantras that I tend to fall back on when making hard decisions or feeling a bit lost. They give me instruction on how to act and refocus my energy.
Open doors, as many as you can and whenever you can…
From: This one clearly grew out of my parents, encouraging me to first get all the options at the table and then go from there. Whether applying to college or exploring career options, expanding a network or going after resources, anytime is not the time to be closing doors. This mantra encourages me to say “yes” to opportunities to develop new and nurture existing relationships. Typical professional advice, but taking new meetings and keeping up with your network takes time.
This mantra is a reminder that relationships can’t be taken for granted – your relationships are your doors: to new perspectives, new ideas, new relationships, and new opportunities; that they can end in an instant and irreversibly fade if you don’t make an effort to show you care. If you’re thinking of someone, let them know. If you feel grateful for someone, write them a note. If you are wondering how someone is doing, don’t just think about it, call them up or schedule coffee. That’s how you keep up with those you care about. And when you meet someone new, get to know them and follow-up to let them know your enjoyed connecting.
Whether is applications to school or a job, or your network, these are doors of opportunity, learning, exchange, and growth (and even luck?). Open them, and keep them open. Without them, you’re just sitting in a dark room alone.
Trust a good change.
From: This one grew out of my own experiences. There have been times when making a big change was super scary and uncomfortable. My first serious break up; deciding not to go to graduate school right out of college; this latest career move. But the lesson was not lost on me. When faced with being unhappy and too afraid to change, you are resigning yourself to something from the past. You’re giving into inertia. I feel like we often fall victim to our own inertia, and that this can limit us in ways we can’t even imagine.
If you’re ever going down some path and you realize it’s not at all where you want to be or should be…or if it’s simply time to go, don’t simply ignore or discount the need to change just because change is difficult. The best things only come about through change.
Make something from every experience.
From: This mantra is something I’ve built over time. Through trying experiences and helpful perspectives (from The Alchemist by Paulo Coehlo and the passage below). I have learned that while there are a lot of things you can’t change or affect, there is a lot that you can do to make a situation better or worse; and you can get something out of it. Some people may reduce this mantra to “see the silver lining” but it’s more than that. This is about creating something out an experience that wasn’t there before. It means being open and humble enough to see new opportunities, taking advantage of them as they arise, and recognizing that such an opportunity may not come around again for awhile.
This mantra also says you must have the courage to believe there is value in it.
“Faith is the opposite of superstition. Faith means believing in the boundless possibilities of the universe and setting out to explore them. It means knowing that if you leap off a cliff, you’re bound to land somewhere. Faith means trusting that the world is wider and richer than you could possibly see from where you are, and therefore not feeling pressure to plan out the rest of your life from here. You might be better off just sketching a route to the horizon: from there, you’ll be able to make out new vistas and make new plans accordingly.
Heaven help those who make long-term plans today and stick to them, whose lives will never be greater than what they can imagine right now!
Faith means embracing your desire: knowing what you want, that it is good, that it will come true. Faith enables you to act freely and learn from the consequences. Faith is the engine of the self-fulfilling prophecy. It equips you to rely on your intuition and grants you power over your fear… Faith is indispensable for capital-L living.” — Expect Resistance
While this all might seem like blind optimism, it is at times when pessimism and doubt is taking over that this level of optimism is necessary to re-balance our sense of possibility, that when paralyzed, a solid shot of hope is necessary to get up and get moving.
And these are the three mantras that keep me going, like the momentum of a good song or a good hike. Sometimes it’s good to eat your words 🙂