Tuesday 22 April 2014

Uncharted Territory

Stay!– photo collage

I recently was part of a mentoring event in which I was one of many professionals who spoke to Bachelor, Masters and PhD students on the verge of graduating university into the cold cruel world of earning their own way. They were Arts and Sciences, and Visual Arts students, and to a person they were passionate about their fields and eager to get active in them.
One question that dampened the enthusiasm came up as we were talking about surmounting obstacles. It was this: “What if you come up to an obstacle and you realize you can’t surmount it, that you made the wrong choice in your career?”
There are things in life that a person may not overcome, not if the person’s limits of endurance, desire or intelligence are reached. There certainly are many forces that can work against us, that push us to those limits, things that deflect us from our paths or that lead us in the wrong direction. We all have to deal with them at some point in our lives, but are they ‘obstacles’? If it is an ‘obstacle’, to me it implies that it involves a choice, those other things don’t leave choices.
Ok, it is entirely possible that someone has taken the wrong path in his/her career choice. However, I find it hard to believe that the person would only realize that at the END of his/her time in university. Unless people were forced, slept or cheated their way through their BA, Masters or PhD years, by graduation they should have a pretty good idea that they are doing what is right for them. Still, I suppose the usual answer to the young man’s question, and the answer the students gathered seemed to expect, was, “Well, it’s never too late to change.” That is definitely true, but it seems counterproductive for people to give themselves a ticket out before even starting their careers. Which is why it’s not what I answered.
I said this:
In my experience, an obstacle is something that stands in your way that you need to overcome. Avoidance is futile, because, like the Borg’s mechanical parts (Star Trek: Next Generation), avoidance grafts itself onto your psyche and you assimilate it as part of your personality. Failure without effort, surrender without resistance, resignation without self-assertion, and self-justification all can become the modus operandi of your behaviour every time thereafter an obstacle impedes your way. And anyway, every avoidance makes the next confrontation or effort more difficult.
 An obstacle is only an obstacle because you want what you believe you’ll find beyond it. It challenges you to pit your ability, knowledge and skill against it, forcing you beyond your knowledge, courage or safety levels. If you can give up what’s behind it BECAUSE of this, then you should.
However, your finding an obstacle difficult, even impossible to surmount despite your best effort should not be a reason for you to give up but a signal to you that you’re not yet ready to tackle it. If you absolutely want what it denies you, your challenge is to figure out 1) what you are missing to be able to conquer it; 2) where and /to whom you need to go to get it and 3) to take the time to move your skill and knowledge to a new level. Take whatever time it takes to do or learn, get as many allies as you may need and then, try again.
I have learned that the old cliché is true, that real success is in the effort, in recognizing more needs to be done and doing it.
You’ve hit an apparently insurmountable obstacle. Stand back, pause a moment. Maybe it’s time to trot along it for a while. You’re always encouraged to think of your achievements as your strong points but maybe, at this moment, it’s your weaknesses that are strong. They are holding you back. Try this: examine your achievements as represented by your CV. Ask yourself what do you absolutely want? What do you absolutely need to get ‘it’? What is missing from your self-description? Be artistic: maybe doing something unrelated for awhile will give you new tools – if nothing else, it will expand your creativity.
Do all the preparatory work, from gaining skill and knowledge to imagining as many impediments as it is humanly possible to imagine and planning ways to deal with them. Then visualize what you will do the tiniest, Technicolor detail, to the nanosecond, and then go for it. At that point, the only real obstacle will be the people ready to tell you it won’t work or that you will fail.
At that point, if the naysayers have the power to cause you doubt, ask for an itemized, down to the last bolt and period reason why it won’t work or why they think you can’t do it. They may present convincing evidence, in which case you will be stronger and more skilled anyway to tackle the new thing you do. But, most of the time, you will discover that what they’re actually saying is that they failed at their attempt, learned avoidance and want to teach it to you too.
Remember: they cannot read your mind, know how well you’ve prepared nor visualize what you have worked so hard to. If they compete with you, they fear your success. If they love you, they fear for you who have little reason to fear for yourself, for by then you should not fear what you will attempt but respect it as something that is worthy of your effort. So stand by it and try, for at hat point, no matter what the outcome, you have already succeeded.

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