Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Never Look Back

Continuing the discussion about planning for your career path, I’d like to relay some other amazing information I’ve most recently internalized. The biggest takeaway from my dinner with Greg was something simple yet complex he said at the end of it all. We were leaving and he says to me, “Adam, look at me. Once you do figure out what you want to do, never look back!” Once you make a decision it is imperative to get thick skin and only look forward. This is not to say looking back to your past to learn is not required and wise. Experiences are for learning, there is a lesson to learn in everything you experience in life. Some do choose, however, to take on a different perspective and look at experiences as circumstantial inconveniences. This perspective is the one to avoid as you move forward in life. It is not healthy to look back and wish things were different, that you would have or should have, and play the "What If?" game with yourself.

Simple advice - just move forward and never look back. The common denominator in second guessing, "What If?" scenarios, and the "should have, would have" conundrum is fear. Fear is too often understood as some horror film playing itself out. The kind of fear I am talking about is not someone jumping out of a closet and startling you. This fear is more subtle and understated, which is why it is so prevalent in our society. This fear’s nemesis is acceptance and trust. A seed of doubt is a simple euphemism for this fear. Individuals’ religion or faith are based on this fear at times. There is a predominant theme in our culture to not trust and to doubt. In an academic sense I think this is health, but in a self-reflective environment this is the most destructive thing ever. Some would say that this is the great enemy to humankind, self-deception and thus self-depreciation.

I was part of a team that started a mentoring program in a downtown homeless shelter. For me personally I cannot justify just writing a check and feeling sorry for anyone. I think people deserve interaction and to be treated equally and taught to view themselves in that manner as well. Because of that world view, every Monday night for the past several years I find myself with these kids who are living in the shelter for one reason or another. My heart melts for the younger boys with behavioral issues. As I take a special interest in them I find myself in hallways and rooms talking to them as they have been dealt the 5 or 10 minute “go inside and talk to Adam punishment.” Most recently I was in the hall with a boy who has a bad habit of throwing insidious insults at others and hitting. Of course, he hides his little head under his shirt and begins his epic story of how he didn’t do anything and that we, the adults, are mean. So I begin to ask him questions that attack his logic and playing the part of victim. He continues to hide his head in shame and make excuses. I tell him that life is hard if you don’t accept things and move on. The lesson I’m trying to teach this kid is to accept that you did something, apologize, make some kind of resolution, and move on. I tell him this and he starts to answer my questions honestly about why he was in the hall with me to begin with. I tell him he is a better man for accepting responsibility and responding to it. I follow him as he apologizes to another volunteer for being disrespectful and disobedient and to the child he insulted. He still hung his head low though. He was ashamed of a mistake, probably wishes he wouldn’t have made it. He was paralyzed and sat himself down refusing to have fun. I can imagine he was going over the situation in his little mind over and over again, just making himself feel worse and worse. So I just go over and pick him up and put him in the swing and tell him to hold his head high for he is a good man now. His acceptance of his past makes him that way and he should move on, smile, laugh, and play again. The rest of the evening he almost glowed with joy. Maybe that was the first time someone had told him that once he accepted and took responsibility for his past he could move forward as a better person. I can’t go around picking up people and putting them on swings. Side hugs of affirmation don’t have the same effect on an adult as they do a troubled boy, but maybe this is what we all need.

Now what in the world does this little guy have to do with a dinner with my father-in-law and not looking back? Honestly it’s something I had to reconsider for a second because I found myself caught up in the need for male mentors for boys like this. Trust me; there will be writing about this shortly. Moving forward, the connection really has to do with the idea of accepting things and learning form the past rather than allowing things that are history paralyze one from moving forward. Doubting yourself can have dire consequences both personally and professionally. Professionally, I think what Greg was getting at was that once you make a career path choice to not play the "What If?" game and doubt yourself. Do not allow destructive thoughts like that to throw you off course. 30 years into a career on a bad day, one little, "What if I would have chosen something different?" could derail a career if allowed to reach its full potential. This is said obviously regarding a sound decision made about your career. If you are in a career that you loathe, one that eats your soul, one that has you coveting the janitor’s job, then sure, allow these thoughts to run wild. If you have made a sound decision about your career, based on your personal desires, skills, talents, personality type, and other factors at some point then do not allow these thoughts to bump you off track.

Doubt, fear, second guessing, and "What If? are natural thoughts that will always creep into anyone’s mind. There is no off switch. There is only learning to manage these thoughts. We must learn to dismiss destructive, self-disparaging, thoughts that seek only to undermine the good decisions we have made. If our perspective is one of acceptance rather than fear of being or doing wrong perhaps we will be able to move forward without those thoughts weighing us down. As simple of a statement that, “Never look back,” is it reveals much more about the human psyche. So, once we make a career choice, never look back, never allow doubt to take away from a decision made in a sober state, a responsible choice, dismiss it and keep moving. Without the weight of self-depreciating thoughts you can run through walls professionally. Shake it off and keep moving and never, ever look back. My hope is that this sage advice can impact you the way it has me. May you not doubt and straddle the fence, may you never look back and always move forward. And perhaps even the climate of the professional market will change if it experiences a deluge of confident, informed young people.

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