The outcomes you can't see might be best

posted by Jeff | Sunday, October 23, 2022, 2:02 PM | comments: 0

It's funny how, again this year, I ended up talking to my intern a bit about how they shouldn't be too precious about their career choices in college. It sure seems at the time like you're planning for a long-term outcome that is inflexible, though anyone in their 30's will tell you that's silly. What really gets me about this though is that potential outcomes seem nearly impossible to imagine until they happen.

This happened for me only a few years out of college, as a radio/TV major. While I was brooding my senior year about being so done with school, ready to work for real, I could not have predicted what would happen next. I got to a full-time radio gig within a few months, and at that point it was like, "This is it?" What a horrible business. After bailing on that, I ended up in local government TV, which was definitely better, but I felt unappreciated and underpaid (relative to my peers in other cities). Four years after graduation, I was working with that Internet, and I became a software developer. College senior me could have never predicted that.

It doesn't help that American standard culture says that the dream is to think of something clever to do for the rest of your life, and with hard work you can make it happen. Anything less is failure or a personality flaw. If only things were that simple in a very chaotic world. It seems like we're still telling kids that this is how it should go.

I realized today that this phenomenon of unknown outcomes doesn't really have a time limit. Even this late in my career, what if I could be doing something else? I can't imagine what it would be, and that grates on me. I mean, sure, I could become a podcaster (done that), write a book (done that) or become a professional body piercer (not really, people are gross). But what's the thing that I've never thought of?

Here's the irritating truth: A lot of what happens and where we end up is dumb luck. The birth lottery is only the start of it. While I'd like to think that I have to some extent made my present, there have been hundreds of little events that were just right place/time occurrences. I think the best way to respond to that is embrace the chaos and look for the opportunity as you go. Uncertainty is hard. (And I'm not even a Type-A!)


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