If you’re like many professionals, you know it’s time to make another career move. The writing is on the wall, so to speak. You’ve either been in your current role for a bit longer than you intended, the corporate culture around you is shifting in a direction that you don’t seem to fit into, or you just feel the itch. Whatever it is, it’s time.
So you’re thinking you should get your resume together.
But as soon as you start talking to resume writers or reading through the latest career trends, you keep hearing the same mantra:
“Your resume should be focused, focused, focused. The more focused, the more effective it will be.”
And then you start to panic. You might even think, “Oh no, do I really want to push myself into such a corner? What if I want to pursue two options? How come I don’t really know what I want to be when I grow up?”
For older workers, it might even be more frightening. Maybe you thought you’d be retired by now or certainly within the next 5 years. So if the idea of making the career move isn’t daunting enough, now you have to marry yourself to either your current role or break out into a new one at what feels like the exact wrong moment.
Or maybe you’re like me and middle age is upon you. You’ve always done the “safe” thing or whatever you had to do. It would be nice to take more of a risk or at least find something you really enjoy doing.
Whatever the situation may be. The good news is that you’re not alone…
Robert Frost wrote about something very similar in 1920 in his famous poem The Road Not Taken when he was about 46 years old:
|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.|
Now if you studied this poem in school or are just an avid fan of Frost or poetry in general, you’ve inevitably heard many commentaries wax philosophical on this poem.
The popular way to read it is to think that the road “less traveled” that the narrator took “made all the difference.” That the soul searching, life-affirming, man-in-touch-with-the universe sentiment is the key here. That the narrator walking through this “yellow wood” (in tune with nature) saw two different paths, and the decision of one over the other was what “made all the difference” now looking back on his life. In other words, the courage to go a different way saved him or her from the dreaded “regret.”
It’s a nice thought, isn’t it? It’s certainly sold a lot of Hallmark cards.
But what if Frost were doing what Frost often did…what if he were being a bit facetious, a little tongue in cheek, if you will?
I won’t go into too many details for sake of time, but I think you could make as strong an argument that Frost was in jest when he said this decision “made all the difference” as you can that he was dead serious: e.g., the use of exclamation point and all caps, the somewhat melodramatic tone (“I shall be telling this with a sigh”), the awkward rhyming with “difference” at the end. In other words, the poem can be read in two different ways, much like the two different paths.
So what does that mean, particularly in regard to choosing between two career paths?
For one, I think it means we need to give ourselves a break, that although the decision might be significant to us at the moment, looking back in life, it might not make “all the difference.”
For another, and this is a topic I want to keep “for another day,” sometimes when we are faced with what to do in our careers, we’ve bought a little too much into the idea of “soul searching” and not enough into the understanding of “market indicators” (not very sexy, I know…and so, well, capitalistic).
Robert Frost was a great poet, one of the few who actually knew “fame” from his writing during his lifetime. He was also a mediocre farmer (and that’s somewhat generous). Neither of those things, however, really made him money. Instead, he became a prominent speaker who spent a lot of time doing the college circuit and writer conferences, where he capitalized on the fame from his writing and stayed on the road (why he wasn’t such a good farmer).
So although we can wax poetical or philosophical about our career decisions, more often than not, like Frost, sometimes we have to do what we have to do “knowing how way leads on to way.”