How is your life - when filtered through interpretations of the details you choose to share online - perceived differently than it looks to you? Do those external perceptions ever make you feel you're skewing the story too much? Or do you generally agree with these others' assertions? Because of the not-infrequent commentary concerning "the way my life seems from the outside," I've been pondering the recurring questions of how someone else's take on ordinary details can reflect all kinds of misunderstandings AND truths of our realities. (Such as when the childhood friend finds you on Facebook, engages you in email exchanges, and eventually asserts "You live the most exciting life!" ironically on precisely one of those days in which, having worked until 4am, you overslept, rushed to handle the morning's mandatory work, then realized that 5 hours later you've forgotten to eat or shower! Not a lot of people's definition of excitement, is it?) I've also come to the conclusion that while sometimes people are just going to get it wrong no matter how you tell your story, it can also be valuable to consider those interpretations as fresh viewpoints. And as a way to help actually improve the enjoyment of your own life! Seem farfetched? To illustrate...
I sometimes read the blog of a woman who likewise sometimes reads mine. She lives several states away. We've each left the occasional comment for the other. Over time, a sense of interest and mutual respect - albeit basic and unexplored - can emerge through such encounters. Do this for long enough, and imaginary realities begin to form around the details that have been revealed. Details which you well know, as a fellow-blogger, only reveal part of the story.
All I really knew about this woman was that she goes to work every day, at a J O B she doesn't love, (as opposed to an intentionally-chosen career about which she is passionate,) and has somewhat recently decided it's time to change the course of her professional life. She reads the kinds of books I find compelling, about the rewards of an authentic path, however odd to outsiders. She's also hired a career coach. This latter choice is completely foreign to me. The process intrigues me and I enjoy the unfolding of her story, particularly since her writing style is conversational in a way that appeals to me.
She's now reached the stage at which her coach has assigned her the task of interviewing actual people. More specifically, she's to interview those who work in industries to which she is drawn, who are utilizing similar skills as those recently identified as critical to her own future professional happiness. In spite of knowing this from her blog, it was nonetheless wholly unexpected that a few days after she revealed this homework assignment, I received my first ever email from her. In it, she asked if I would either be willing to email her some answers to specific questions about my own career path, or even perhaps discuss these topics by phone.
Without piling on layers of self-deprecating humility, I nonetheless must admit that I was not only surprised that someone would ask for my insight toward their efforts to create a more ideal career path for themselves, but I was also more than a little concerned for her that if she only talked to people whose paths resembled my own, she'd still be working at the job she dislikes for the rest of her life. If you know someone who's taken a more circuitous path to where they are now than I have, I'd like to meet them.
Of course I said yes, anyway. It was just too good to pass up. I'm so curious about a linear process and what it might look like, and feel like, to have the opportunity to start from scratch and craft a career to which one is most suitably matched. The hour we spoke - to the minute - was better than I'd anticipated. She was engaging, asked great questions, and managed the flow in such an eloquent, elegant way that by the end, she herself was complimenting me on having shared appropriate, salient points from "this journey" of childhood to now in such a way that we both felt a little surprised our talk was unscripted. And it's true: the whole thing just flowed in this fascinating arc, forgotten details coming to the forefront of my memory, suddenly a clear and vital contributor to my current needed skill set. I hung up feeling more confident than ever that if anyone were to suddenly find themselves in the position of being able to start from scratch and "decide what they want to be when they grow up" with the wisdom that years hopefully bring, they should absolutely embark upon this path. No matter when it appeared in their life.
What happened then, though, was that in addition to simply getting to help another person without expectation, other benefits appeared. Benefits to me! As segments of our conversation replayed themselves in my mind, I noticed my earliest hesitations fading. Instead of entertaining the momentary fear-based thoughts of myself as "fake" or "poser" in offering anyone career advice, as I considered ways in which I don't handle things like paperwork or record keeping with as much finesse as my friends with MBA's, I also recall the simple, daily gratitude of my clients. Like, on the extreme end, the one who once told me he'd hired 11 different web professionals over the years and finally I was helping him enjoy the process. (Shhhh. Don't you talk smack about my client!) And I recall the day, 18 years ago, as a young, would-be customer service supervisor in an industry that would have sapped my soul had I remained on the path I'd begun there, watching in amazement as my friend, a corporate trainer, helped me revise my resume. As his fingers flew over the keyboard, well-used shortcuts causing his cursor to jump here and there as if by magic and I stood there dumbfounded and intimidated by my paltry lack of computer knowledge... how could I have known that that very incident, and others like it, would later give me enormous compassion now for the client who tells me how petrified she is she's going to mess up her website and that she's afraid she can't learn how to do what I've promised to teach her to do?
What's remained with me since my talk on finding career satisfaction, is that while I suggested things to this woman that I might have done differently Had My Current Career Actually Existed When I Started College For The First Time, many paths will lead you to a single destination. And the wonky, broken, utterly screwed up path that lands you here can be just as amazing as if you'd decided to start at point A and continue to point B... And worthy, too, to the person who's looking around for inspiration as they carve their own way.
It's made me soften some, as I listen to the responses of others - even those who only know the "me" that comes through online in filtered slivers of detail - and entertain the possibility that their assertions are sometimes closer to truth than my more critical inner voice might always let me consider. And that other childhood friend it's my instinct to shush when, while traveling, she sends me a note to say "What is it you do that's let you spend these last few weeks hopping up and down the west coast? Your life is so exciting!" with reminders that I've slept on friends' sofas and dying air mattresses on this trip, and hooked up my laptop to keep up with work in uncomfortable, uncanny places... well, I can also learn to hear what she says and consider the truth of her words. That "exciting" doesn't have to be jaunting around the world, sleeping in world-class resorts, flying first-class and eating caviar. That it's also having the choice to do the work I do from most anywhere, or even to work until 4am and not have to necessarily brush my hair in order to meet my clients' expectations.
As it turns out, no matter whether your path is tidy and traditional, or "utterly made up" like some people I know, it's always useful to look at it with fresh eyes. When people compliment you or express admiration for something you know they don't fully understand, maybe just take a minute to consider that their take may not be all that far off base! It's useful for livening things up, and it also doesn't hurt to remember all those things you have to be grateful for.
What about you? What are those remarking on the limited parts of you they know getting right, in spite of the details you're leaving out?Anybody...?