But I’m Not Exactly Sure How

By Susan Ford Collins

An unexpected phone call stopped me in my tracks. The sound of my friend John’s voice immediately told me he was upset. What’s wrong? I asked. “My life is in chaos and I am calling to ask if I can stay with you till I get reoriented.” And of course, I said yes.

Once John settled in, he started going on morning walks with me so we could have some quiet time to talk. Around seven each morning, we hitched up my dogs, Mica and Mango, and headed out the gate. Within a few steps John started asking questions… not ordinary questions but big profound ones like… “I’m trying to figure out how to keep moving ahead in my life, but I’m not exactly sure what to do next.”

And I replied… first of all, let’s look at the word exactly in more detail. Because you are never going to know exactly in advance, any more than a farmer sowing a field of wheat knows exactly which grains will land on rock and which will fall upon rich soil, germinate and thrive. But if that farmer throws enough seeds, he knows some will prosper.

Exactly is about scarcity... I only have one seed and I have to make sure I put it in the right place, at the right time, in the right way. Well, that sounds plausible and prudent, but it simply isn’t ever possible to know exactly... in advance. When I talk to people who have been successful at realizing dreams, at leading successful families or building large companies, they laugh and chuckle when I ask them if they knew how to get there in advance.

The idea that life is laid out in a straight line is a limit because life isn’t straight. It’s more like a maze. So every once in a while, it’s valuable to relook at your relationships and career so you can have a good laugh over how little you had to do with how it all happened. How divinely it occurred.

It’s not as much about making opportunities as seizing them

Let’s take you, for example. How exactly did you come to manage 110 people at Quotron? Was it a straight-line or were there all kinds of bends and twists and turns in the river, backwashes and crazinesses that got you to that point?

As we stopped and started with the dogs, John told me his life story in fits and starts, darting ahead and then circling back again, trying to piece it all together. Then, neatly ordered and assembled, I played it back to him.

So, John, when you grew up you attended a technical high school in your neighborhood. Your grades were OK, but, according to you, not great. Then you went to a community college where you signed up for electricity and electronics with computer science as a minor. But the computer screwed up and majored you in your minor. So the truth is a computer chose your major for you, and you did quite well, much better in fact than you had in high school!

When you graduated from college, you couldn’t exactly have known that The Burroughs Corporation would be on strike and, in an extremely tight job market, the only job you could find would be replacing striking workers. So, even though you didn’t like being a scab, you took the job and spent the next two years getting some experience under your belt and onto your resume. Then, because you were injured in a car accident and couldn’t drive to meet clients for several weeks, Burroughs sent you to attend a conference on technical writing and taught you a new operating system.

Next a headhunter called just when you were sick-and-tired of getting high praise but not getting rewarded for being the “Dirty Harry, always working long hours, pulling rabbits out of hats, keeping impossible customers happy” kind of guy that you were. So you worked for Digital for two years, handling the most difficult accounts in your branch, and started to notice that besides technical skills, you also had people skills and so you kept moving up. But what finally got your goat was you trained someone so well that she made supervisor before you did. And, outraged at the unfairness, you quit. When they asked where you were going, you told them, “I don‘t know. I just won’t work here anymore.”

Next you called a couple of headhunters, one of which found you a job at GE... with the big raise you’d been looking for… plus a company car. Yes, you loved the money, but you hated the work, which quickly taught you another life-changing lesson. “Money’s nice but I also want to enjoy my job.” Six months later that same headhunter called again and set up an interview with Quotron... the right job plus another 50% raise. Soon a manager was promoted but the assistant managers who worked for him weren’t qualified to fill his shoes. So they made you assistant manager and, within two months, you were manager of the biggest, most-high-profile department at Quotron. And, interestingly enough, the clinching factor in that promotion came way back when you were at Burroughs, when you had a car accident and attended a course in technical writing and learned a new operating system. These were the very skills that landed you this job.

John, my purpose here is to shoot the word exactly in the head and prove to you, here and now, how absurd needing to know exactly in advance really is. Absurd? Yes, absurd. Complete idiocy!

So here’s the secret: Throw in enough seeds to assure a prosperous crop. Keep taking action and using accumulating feedback and knowledge. And, right from the start, know that you will never know exactly where you’re going, or exactly how you’ll get that. And realize the best parts of life are those computer glitches that guide you, those strategically-timed strikes that provide unanticipated jobs, those phone calls that come out of the blue, those people you bump into just when you need them, those courses you take because of an accident, those managers who get promoted at exactly the right time—all the puzzle pieces you weren’t looking for when they were lowered into your lap unexpectedly.

The intention to get to a specific destination is a huge prayer. God, I can see this, hear this, feel this, I can even taste and smell it, but I don’t know how to get there. Please help me find the way.

Yes, its’ true. If you pin down the destination, God will provide the transportation. So, here’s the bottom line... you will never know exactly how to get to your dream... in advance. You just have to keep praying and dreaming and taking appropriate action. You just have to keep responding and trusting and believing. You just have to keep accepting divine guidance.

(c) Susan Ford Collins. For permission to use this article, email susanfordcollins@msn.com

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Your Working Life: Caroline Dowd-Higgins interviews Susan Ford Collins