Life is not a straight line
March 12, 2008
If you are over fifty, cast your eye over your life and career. Could you have ever anticipated back in your earlier days where you are now?
Don Posterski noted, "Life is not a straight line from A to Z, rather, it's a zigzag."
I started out, flush with anticipation that our group—religious tribe—and me from the onset would break out in society-altering ways. Frankly, not a bad way to begin: "Better to control the fire than to always be reigniting it."
The vision wasn't misguided or inappropriate; just somewhat naïve though well intentioned.
Year by year, and experience by experience, I accumulated ideas critical to action, self-awareness of personal gifts and abilities, reinforced by others who recognized my strengths. These—without much outside interference or nudging—have a way of sorting out the next step, the next place, the next initiative.
And surprise after surprise: what I thought I would be and thought to be most significant, didn't materialize.
What I expected to be didn't happen. I still have memories of feeling crushed and deeply disappointed that what I so wanted to become, I didn't. As one of my colleagues says, "I didn't have the chops for that."
Drucker's insight fits my life. My career is more defined by opportunities in times and places I least expected. The first was in 1967. Following my boyhood dream to be an evangelist, Lily and I, under the auspices of a local Pentecostal congregation "holding meetings" in a 100% Mennonite community... Depressing is too lifting a term.
I received a letter from Youth for Christ in Montreal. My father advised me to say no. After all, he was a national executive leader with the pentecostals. But a pastor and university mentor, Dr. Harry Faught, called and said, "This may be good for you."
That opportunity shifted my life. But what it did more poignantly was open up an understanding of my gifts and strengths; in areas I had no clue of gifting.
My advice to students: look for opportunities. They may not match what you think your gifts are, or even what you know they are. But those open doors will move you into great self-awareness, refining your essential giftings, and press you beyond your comfort zone to rely on the Spirit in ways that you never would have without taking the risk.
Great Lord and Spirit who inspired the Psalmist to help us know that in trusting You, You will direct our paths. Help me see doors that are slightly ajar, which if pushed open would make available corridors of opportunities of Your doing. Give me, Lord, discernment to make a choice and boldness to move when the time comes. Amen.
"Successful careers are not planned. They develop when people are prepared for opportunities because they know their strengths, their method of work, and their values."