Have you ever watched thoroughbreds in the starting gate, the moment before it opens? You can sense their energy, anticipation and desire to run. They are ready and raring to go..
A few years ago, I joined some clients at the Del Mar Thoroughbred Club in San Diego for the mid-summer opening day festivities, which is quite a social event with a live concert after the races.
I was fascinated with the sequence that began (for us) as we stood in The Paddock, a circular viewing area, and watched the incredible racehorses pass us while the trainers guided each horse by the bridle, with the jockeys mounted. It was awesome to get a close-up view of the highly tuned animals, still in a calm state before entering the track.
As “The Call to the Post” was played, and each horse entered onto the racetrack, you could see the elevated level of excitement. This was classic Pavlovian conditioning, triggered by the magnificent animal’s association of the racetrack with running fast.
The trainers and the jockeys worked hard to keep the thoroughbred calm and under control, as they lead the horse to the starting gate crew of very experienced and brave professionals.
If a nervous horse balked at the gate, the crew pushed the 1,200-pound horse by joining hands, making a cradle behind the horse, and pushing them on the rear end until they went into the gate. Once inside the gate each horse was held by a crew member that straddled the stall, inches away from the extremely excited animals.
When all the horses were loaded, the moment of maximum anticipation was emanating from the thoroughbreds and jockeys, and that electricity lit up the entire crowd. The horses wanted nothing more than to do what they are best prepared to do; just run. The few seconds that they waited must have seemed like an eternity.
There was not a single person in the stadium who doubted that all of the thoroughbreds in that starting gate were ready to run through the gate when it opened…
“And they ‘re off!”
The thoroughbred’s preparation, anticipation and willingness to run through an open gate, is a fantastic analogy for the mental state that is necessary to run through life’s gates of opportunity that are momentarily opened.
So, how do we get into this “ready and raring to go” mode, and identify the changes necessary to experience this elevated sense of fulfillment?
There is absolutely no reason to voluntarily change from one career to another, unless it is a “game changer”.
Does it infuse you with the enthusiasm of a thoroughbred? Does it make you want to get up every morning and work hard? Are you consumed with positive thoughts of how it would alter your life? Does it bring out your very best attributes?
If not, just stay with the current reliable path that produces a very valuable result of stability and consistency. Your loved ones will likely be okay with the status quo.
Do your homework
In the blog “Two Questions That Lead To Life Satisfaction” 2 Qs we focused on identifying your natural strengths and interests. If you have not yet read that post, please do so before continuing.
Once you have noted your most natural strengths and interests, and you have committed to remaining consistent with this self-analysis, you are prepared to identify a long-term objective that prioritizes your strengths, and revolves around your interests.
How do you accomplish this next step of converting self-awareness into career aspirations? Research. The beauty of the Internet is that you can utilize Google and Yahoo engines to conduct simple and effective information searches.
Once you have identified some career paths consistent with your true interests and passions, you must transition from the reliance on the Internet, to direct interaction with people currently involved in these specific roles. Ask everyone in your life; including family, teachers, friends, and counselors if they know somebody in that career field. This will provide the opportunity for you to engage in a free flow dialogue that provides true clarity of what the career really entails.
Remember, achievers will recognize a young person with focus, and want to help you to succeed.
After these in-person experiences, ask yourself if any of these careers still really excite you. If not, start the search again. When you find the right objective, the challenge should consume your thoughts.
Know what you want, and tell everyone
Get your elevator speech together, and then openly discuss your career aspirations with whoever is listening. Why? Because you never know when you are talking to the critical “connector” / “enabler”.
After college graduation, I sold fax machines door to door on 100% commission for the Harris/3M Corporation, while attending National Guard Duty as a Second Lieutenant. I really wanted to become a helicopter pilot, but had decided on this aspiration too late in the traditional process due to a college football knee injury. I quickly became frustrated after learning that the unit had a long backlog of wanna-be aviators. We were clearly identified by our lack of flight suits and silver wings, and our bad habit of complaining to each other about our low-value positions in the unit and the long waiting period before we went to flight school. I guess we could have be called penguins.
One day, I walked into a building in Herndon, Virginia trying to find a buyer of a new fax machine. Instead, I bumped into Don Hess, retired Chief Warrant Officer CW5, and Executive Director of the Warrant Officers Association. After a one hour discussion with Don, I learned that he was a very experienced helicopter pilot with service in Vietnam. I had already mentioned to him my goal to become a pilot, and that my National Guard unit was full of young second lieutenants waiting for their flight school assignment (over one year).
He then suggested that if I truly wanted to become an active duty pilot, there may be another option through the Warrant Officer flight training program. He had flown in Vietnam with a pilot who was now the Commanding General at Recruiting Command, and he would look into it for me. Luckily, I had stumbled into my enabler, my connector.
Be willing to take a step back
Most often, especially if you are currently established in a career, you will have to take a step back in order to move two steps forward. This is more difficult the longer you have been removed from entry level work, and especially difficult for middle-aged people who want to make a fundamental shift in the career after years of frustration and hard work not consistent with their true strengths and interests.
In my example, after CW5 Don Hess talked to his friend, the General, he told me that I would have to resign my officer commission, and enter into active duty as a much lower E-3 rank (Private First Class) with a direct assignment to Warrant Officer Candidate School, followed by flight training to become an aviator.
Recognize the downside, and accept it
What will happen if you fail to make the transition? This can be a sobering part of the assessment and often torpedoes the entire idea and sends the person back to the drudgery and boredom, tail tucked between the legs. However, if you ask yourself a simple question, you may be able to stomach the risk.
At the end of my life, will I regret not trying to follow this path?
When Don Hess explained the unconventional, but available path that he could offer me, he explained the downside. The risk was if I washed-out of flight training, I would have forfeited my officer status, and be required to serve at the junior enlisted level (as if I had recently joined the Army from high school). However, if I made it through the training, I would be assigned to fly the best aircraft in the Army’s fleet.
It was risky, but I leapt at the chance, because I was focused on becoming a pilot, and much more impatient and risk tolerant than my group of wingless (penguin) peers. They were astounded when I shared with them my plan to make it to flight school, and mostly thought that I was crazy or stupid (maybe both).
If you can’t accept the risk, you have not yet found the appropriate path.
Once you decide to go for it, don’t look back
Once you decide to jump into the raging river to cross, you have to keep swimming until you get to the other side. No regrets. Just go all in.
So in 1989, I entered into the active duty U.S. Army and went through several challenges (the source of many of my blog posts) before completing the rigorous flight training program at Fort Rucker, Alabama. Over the next six years, I served as a UH-60 Blackhawk pilot stationed throughout Central America, Europe, the Middle East and the USA, flying a variety of difficult missions on behalf of our nation.
It was a dream come true. I often wondered how long my former (penguin) peers sat in that old flight hangar, complaining about the insurmountable obstacles, and waiting for a flight slot to be given to them…
What excites you? Discover it by thinking about your areas of interest or passion, when you are not being paid or under a personal obligation to do it. What topics hold your interest? What are the areas of your life that generate personal enthusiasm? Can you identify an opportunity consistent with these answers? If so, are you willing to sacrifice and go for it?
How will you know? If you are more excited about the merits of the opportunity, than you are worried about the downside of failure, you have identified a path in life that will have you “ready and raring to go”!