Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Wednesday Wisdom: The Ability to Change Directions


Your power to choose the direction of your life allows you to reinvent yourself, to change your future, and to powerfully influence the rest of creation. - Stephen R. Covey


This week my wife and I are enjoying a spring break visit from our daughter Sara. At the ripe old age of 36, Sara decided to leave a successful and comfortable career in IT/Customer Service and test the unknown waters of law school.
When Sara asked me beforehand what I thought of her going to law school, I discouraged her. I told her that with a glut of lawyers in this country, lots of newly-minted lawyers were miserably unemployed. The only way it would be a good move, I said, would be if she did exceptionally well. Rather than being daunted by my rather grim assessment, she took it as a personal challenge. She prepared intensively for the LSAT and scored in the 98th percentile. Based on those results and her other credentials, she received a total of $1.25 million in scholarship offers from several high-quality law schools, and eventually accepted one at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill.
She's now finishing her second year with an excellent class ranking, is a member of the law review, and has a prestigious internship this summer with a highly respected federal bankruptcy judge in Greensboro. I have no doubt she will leave a significant mark on the legal profession, like her father, grandfather, great-grandfather, and great-uncle before her.
* * * * *
My assistant at Walk-in Wills, Meghan Rogers, was a highly-regarded high-school English teacher, chair of the English Department, and an administrator at her school. She has a Master's degree in English and has taught college-level English and literature classes. But after 10 years in the classroom, she felt that teaching was not taking her where she wanted to be. She made the difficult decision to steer her life in a different direction.
A few months later, I picked her resume out of more than 200 applications I received to fill the new position at Walk-in Wills. She passed the online exercises I sent her with flying colors and then stood head and shoulders above all the other candidates (even though she's only 5' 3" tall) when my wife and I interviewed her for the job.
She's taken to this new career like a fish to water and is a warm and welcoming member of the Walk-in Wills team. She greets our clients with a cheerful smile, helps them understand this new model of legal services, and handles their work with intelligence, discretion, and wisdom beyond her years. There's a big future ahead of her.
* * * * *
Of all the talents that lead to success in life, two of the most important are the ability to stick to a job until it's finished and the ability to change directions when the current path isn't leading to the right destination. While on the surface these capabilities may seem contradictory to each other, they are not. The first is a TACTICAL skill: when you are in the right place, you must push forward and complete the task at hand. The second is STRATEGIC: it requires knowing you are not where you need to be (or are not headed there) and having the courage to change course.
Lao Tzu famously said, "If you do not change direction you may end up where you are headed." That's not a problem if you like where you're headed; indeed, in that case it would be foolish to keep flopping around from path to path. Under those circumstances, perseverance is the appropriate virtue. I applaud those who, knowing they've made the right choice, have the tenacity to push forward even when the way is hard.
But if you know in your gut that where you are or where you're headed isn't where you should be, the ability to change directions is essential to your long-term success and happiness. In that situation, resolute persistence is NOT a virtue but a curse. When you find yourself in a hole, the first thing to do is to stop digging. Figure out where you should be and correct your course. The longer you stay on the wrong road, the harder it will be to get on the right one.
I salute the Saras and Meghans of the world who have the sense to realize that their lives are headed in a less-than-ideal direction and the courage to put on the brakes and turn around. I tip my hat to those who have the faith to follow their dreams and make something better of themselves, as scary as that may sometimes be. I commend the brave souls who choose the more difficult path, the "road less traveled," in pursuit of a more excellent future.
Which leads obviously to one of my favorite poems.
"The Road Not Taken" by Robert Frost
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I-
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference. 

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