Five years ago, I had lunch with an amazing 20-year-old woman. She had just finished a successful summer internship, and now it was fall, and she was going back to school to finish her business degree. Her future was bright. She was super smart, extremely likeable, with a great attitude, and definitely going places.
Over lunch, she told me about her BIG PLAN.
It looked something like this:
Graduate business school, get a job at top-tier consulting firm, get a promotion, buy condo, another promotion, get married, switch to client side job, buy starter house, another promotion, first baby, another promotion, bigger house, second baby, promotion to C-Suite, even bigger house, buy a ski chalet in Whistler and eventually retire there.
She included the age she’d be at each stage as well as the companies she’d work at and job titles she’d attain.
Listening to her, I became incredibly sad.
She’d mapped out a journey. And journeys suck. Journeys are for tourists, sitting on busses being taken from one place to another. A tourist isn’t creating her experience; she’s watching it happen to her.
Please don’t be a tourist.
Be an explorer. Be Indiana Jones.
Leave room for surprise, serendipity, uncertainty, fear and discovery. Because the truth is, our imaginations are far too limited to dream of everything that’s possible for us.
Take me for example. In my last year of university, I couldn’t have imagined that I’d one day launch a national magazine, or that I’d be CEO of a tech start-up (hell, when I left university, the term tech start-up wasn’t even a thing). And I certainly couldn’t have imagined that I’d write two novels. I thought I was going to be an Advertising Account Executive and one day, a VP of Marketing somewhere.
What about you? What have you achieved that you couldn't have imagined when you were in school?
My friend and I lost touch after that lunch, but I thought about her frequently throughout the next five years. I imagined her on her journey, slogging it out, stacking achievement upon achievement. And I worried about her. Was she happy? Was she fulfilled? Or was she stuck?
So when I began The Unstuck Project, I found her on LinkedIn and reached out for an interview, to which she happily agreed.
It turns out, I didn’t have to worry about my friend at all. And that’s because the BIG PLAN is long gone.
In her final year of university, my friend struggled with depression. She became stuck. She hadn’t even graduated yet and the BIG PLAN was already in jeopardy. This filled her with fear and deepened her depression. But then my friend had a revelation. Rather than gritting her teeth and doubling down on the BIG PLAN, she used her depression as a catalyst to rethink the whole journey thing.
So the BIG PLAN is dead. In it’s place, is a new commitment to openness and experimentation. So much so, she’s in a new city, with a new group of friends, and a new boyfriend. Her job is in line with her goals, but her approach to getting it was completely new. It came through serendipity. A friendly meeting that led to another friendly meeting that turned into a job interview that resulted in a job offer.
“I open myself up to opportunities as they come,” she told me. “It’s been fluid and organic. Letting go of my controlled vision is what’s led to new opportunities.”
She still has a general idea of what she’d like to do. She’s still herself, or as she put it, “I’m not going to become a yoga instructor in Bali”. But at the same time, she doesn’t have any specific next steps. And that’s a big thing.
As she tells it, “I’m willing to go to any city in the world. I have 3-4 different industries that I’d be super excited about. I want the next job to be better than the last job.”
If something doesn’t work out, she’ll move onto the next thing with no judgment or self-recrimination. There’s always another path.
She’s become an explorer. Hallelujah.
Your turn: Be an Explorer
To be a truly great explorer, you must give yourself options.
Or in my friend’s words, “Look five steps ahead, or even just three and think of all the different paths you could take to get there. Now it’s not just one line, there’re many possible lines.”
One option is no choice at all. It’s an attachment. And it’s trouble (see depression).
Two options is an ultimatum. No one likes an ultimatum.
Three or more options, well now you’re making a choice. Now you’re exploring. Now you’re creating your life experience.
Do it right now. Without thinking too hard on it, write down at least three other paths to reaching one of your goals.
There. Now you're an explorer too.