It was January 1997 in Washington DC a month after college graduation. After weeks of walking “the hill” handing out resumes, applying for jobs and calling Senators and Congressmen, I finally had an interview for a Press Secretarial position. It was perfect! Exactly what I envisioned, harmoniously combining my Political Science and Journalism degrees. For years I had seen myself starting a career that I was passionate about, adding value, and making a difference. This was my chance to make that vision a reality.
The interview didn’t go at all how I imagined. My wide-eyed, idyllic and optimistic vision of the role was steamrolled. The critical fundamentals of not only the position but the organization and space turned out to be nothing I planned or pictured. Immediately after the interview, as I walked along the cracked sidewalk outside, the reality and weight of my future felt like 200 pounds sitting on my shoulders. The career path and life I had painted ahead were crumbling before me. At that moment, I made a choice. It was clear I needed to pivot, but what to pivot to became a series of off course jaunts, distractions, and realignments that uncovered my passion and path.
Since that day, I’ve changed my course many times over, carving out my passion by experimenting with different roles, leaders, and organizations along the way. My off course excursions have ranged from disastrous to amazing. Over time, my passion became clearer, my path smoother, and the digressions became quicker corrections and intentional charters for skill and experience building. I don’t believe that there is one intended path for each of us, but I do believe that we make choices that are both distractions, taking us off course, and realignments bringing us back to our core passion and focus.
When you choose a direction that is clearly not aligned with you, your goals, and your values, your new reality becomes an obvious and jarring distraction. It feels all-consuming and monumental in the moment. Remember when you choose a path, you are making the best decisions possible with the information you have at the time. Sometimes those jaunts become significant journeys that change our overall course to something we never could have imagined, and other times those detours become gravel roads that offer bumpy, painful bruising and learning to remind us to get back on track before we become completely lost.
Going off course can have a significant long-term mental and physical impact, but over time these decisions and excursions begin to fade into the backdrop and become part of the scenery in our larger story. What’s left are the scratches and dents, the reminders of what we learned, and what helped us become the stronger, sturdier, resilient, and ever-evolving people we are today. Be gentle with yourself. Acknowledge your off course excursions. Recognize the distractions and detours. Appreciate and share your bruises and learnings. Celebrate your course clarity and realignments.