For those of us who live on the outer part of this hook of sand known as Cape Cod, Hyannis is our “big city”. It’s where most of the big stores we shop in and the larger businesses and organizations we rely on are located.
To get there, you almost always have to deal with heavy traffic, especially during the warmer half of the year when the second-homeowners and the tourists are with us, but if you know your way around, you can avoid a lot of congestion and a good deal of aggravation by getting off Route 132, the main road in from the highway, and turning right onto Bearse’s Way.
On the Saturday morning last May I was scheduled to make a presentation in the conference room of a community bank, that was exactly what I intended to do.
Before we can seek alternate routes, we first have to “see with our own eyes” that a path is closed. It doesn’t matter if a spouse, or a counselor, or a co-worker sees it. We have to see it for ourselves.
A mile or so before my “short cut”, there was a digital sign as large as the side of a house across which streamed the words, “ROAD CLOSED FIND ALTERNATE ROUTE”.
I saw the sign—I couldn’t have missed it if I tried. I read the sign. I decided it didn’t apply to me.
The turnoff to the bank was only a short distance down Bearse’s Way. Surely I could get that far. Surely they wouldn’t close this major artery to “important” people like me. There had to be some way I could get around the highway department’s “No”.
CAN’T GET THERE FROM HERE
I stayed in the right lane, determined to do it my way, until I saw that the pavement on Bearse’s Way was all torn up and a barricade had been put up to keep anyone from entering.
Suddenly I found that I could not think of any other way to get where I was going.
Would the next side street connect through? Could I get there by cutting through the mall? What if the old story about the tourist asking directions from a Mainer were true, and I actually “couldn’t get there from here”?
I felt lost and confused, just the way many of my clients feel when they come to an intersection in their lives, and a familiar path is blocked. In my moment of blankness, I experienced a little bit of the what-on-earth-will-I-do-now feeling they live with.
Intellectually I knew there had to be some other way of getting where I needed to go, but that wasn’t how it felt, and my feelings had been in the driver’s seat from the moment I read the sign and decided to ignore it!
Understanding how my refusal to face reality affected me that morning has helped me to understand how people can watch their company’s revenue declining, their colleagues being laid off, their industry drying up, etc. and fail to take action, why some try to “sneak through”, as I had hoped to do on Bearse’s Way, until the kids finish school or until retirement, while others stay on in a business or a job long after it has stopped being rewarding, financially or professionally.
MOMENT OF TRUTH
Before we can seek alternate routes, we first have to “see with our own eyes” that a path is closed. It doesn’t matter if a spouse, or a counselor, or a co-worker sees it. We have to see it for ourselves, because we are the ones who have to be ready and willing to live with the deer-in-the-headlights experience of not knowing which way to go, until the feeling passes. Only then are we able to fully engage our heads, our talents, our experience, and our resources to find new directions.
Last winter a client who has owned a business for thirty years came to see me. His skills, creativity and resourcefulness have given him a loyal clientele and an excellent reputation, but now technology is turning his craft into a commodity. He has tried to hold on, ignoring or rationalizing the “closed” signs, but it hasn’t been working.
When we began our process together, professionally he was in a place similar to where I was when I passed the Bearse’s Way barricade. He was completely unable to think of any alternative to what he had been doing for so long.
Over time it became clear to him that his longstanding community involvement, which was an integral part of his earlier business success, offers a number of “alternate routes” he hasn’t thought of.
As the grip of panic has loosened, he has been able to generate a number of options and is beginning to speak about his situation in positive terms and take concrete steps toward a new future.
This is only one example among many. In the last week alone, I have spoken with an IT professional who had got comfortable in a niche that has disappeared, a retired administrator who needs to go back to work for the benefits, and a small business owner who isn’t making enough money to maintain her standard of living. Clearly, changes in the work world, and our failure to anticipate or accept them, are resulting in lot of closed roads. What can we do to provide alternate routes for ourselves?
If I’d been driving an expensive car instead of my scooty little Honda Civic when I found myself blocked from entering Bearse’s Way, I would have been able to use my GPS (Global Positioning System) to find a side street to take me to the bank.
What if we had something like a “CPS (Career Positioning System)” to help us “get our bearings” professionally?
- We would venture off the beaten path more often. We would have the confidence to make experimentation a regular part of our professional life. Even something as simple as doing a routine task in a new way or including people you would not normally include in a meeting can have a profound affect. Experimentation feeds creativity and keeps us limber for those times when something comes along that causes us to “stretch”.
- We wouldn’t be so afraid of getting lost. Getting around Hyannis is confusing. If in the past I had let myself wander now and then, I would have had a better understanding of the territory, and gained confidence in my ability to find my way.
- We’d stop to ask for directions. When we found ourselves at an impasse, we would get help instead of generating anxiety by stubbornly trying paths that may or may not take us closer to where we need to be.
- We would learn about how we fit into the big picture of the organizations we work for or provide services to by having conversations with people outside our immediate sphere of influence to identify other places where our abilities could be valuable. We would “diversify” our “career portfolio” by conscientiously working toward improving our skills through self-study and formal education.
- We would conduct our own performance audits periodically, asking ourselves where and how we make the greatest contribution. Had the client I talked about earlier done this, he might have discovered some time ago that he is well suited for consulting, and it might have calmed some of his fears about letting go of his business.
We can’t afford the tunnel vision of doing things the way we have for years any more. We have to look up every once in a while and ask ourselves what we would do if any of the “Bearse’s Ways” e closed.