All of us would agree. Life would be much easier if it were linear, an even and orderly blend of experiences gradually unfolding and giving us a feeling of confidence and control.
Instead, the unpredictable and unreasonable interrupt what we expect, sometimes destroying what we so carefully mapped out for the future we wanted.
That was the beginning of what I said to a fellow worker during a conversation I neither asked for nor expected. I soon tumbled to the fact he’d come to verify what I’d already sensed — an uneasiness, something deeply personal, a troubled state of mind.
In his late thirties, he’d had three employers, making good use of each opportunity. After four years in his present position, he was fearful of his future. Whether he moved or stayed, something had to change except he didn’t know what that “something” was.
After much groping, we finally ferreted out his real problem. From what he knew or thought he knew, he was doubting his worth not only to his present employer but to all others. He felt as if he’d been washed up on some barren shore with no options for long-term survival.
Although I didn’t feel qualified to help him, the fact he had chosen to come to me was an endorsement I couldn’t ignore.
I began by emphasizing he wasn’t alone, that I’d been squeezed by the same wringer as had most everyone else at some time in their lives. After all, school is only the beginning of learning. The biggest and most nagging teacher of them all is life itself.
That’s when I shared with him a possible cure that had the potential of charting a course for him to follow. Not unexpectedly, he was all ears.
I told him to begin making a list, preferably in chronological order, of every major happening, event, and achievement in his life up to the present. It could be something as simple as when he got his first gold star in grade school or had been the main character in a play, and as prominent as graduating from college and getting his first on-the-job promotion. I emphasized that compiling such a list would take time, maybe as long as two or three weeks, and that remembering one happening would trigger the brain to think of more.
After he’d finished, it was important to go to a quiet place where he wouldn’t be disturbed and for the first time, read the entire list. He would be utterly surprised by
how much he had already accomplished and learned from each occurrence. Most important, that new assessment of self-worth would shove him in the direction he needed to go in moving forward into his future. It would offer solid proof that whatever he had done, he could do again not in identical fashion, but much enhanced and improved because of what he had learned since then.
He gave me a suspicious look, then mumbled a promise to follow through. I could almost believe he wanted to prove me wrong, that such a simple exercise couldn’t possibly be that effective.
Two weeks later, he came back.
“So?” I asked.
“I’m amazed. I found out that what you told me to do was a very logical way of looking at my life.”
He explained he’d always been so concerned with the present he’d never taken time to realize how much he had accomplished over time, that his failures had actually been learning sessions. He was neither the dullard he thought he had become nor as obsolete as he imagined. To the contrary, he was much more capable than he’d given himself credit for.
Soon after, he left to work with one of the “greats” in his profession, once again facing a steep learning curve. Eventually he formed his own company. Its success was so solid he later was able to sell it at a premium price. Now retired, he looks back at those satisfying years with a fondness that can’t be bought for any amount of money.
I hardly need remind you that it doesn’t get much better than that.