So What Did You Think Would Happen?

Every November I go to my old high school – now the school where my oldest son attends (which feels a little weird) – to present at the career day for the grade 11 and 12 students. My job is to show them what an accountant does and whet they need to do in order to become one. They ask all sorts of questions about the work, the schooling, the pay.

To date, no one has asked the question “so what should I do now?”.

Since I am speaking to a blog and not a classroom, I can ask and answer that question which has not been asked yet…and I would answer it this way: “come up with an idea of where you want to be in 10 years, and who you want to be when you get there.”

OK, a digression:

I met a former colleague the other day, and while he is a good hearted man and means well, he is quite bitter. He spent a lot of time deriding people with professional credentials (he did not finish his degree)…though apparently unaware of the degrees hanging on my wall in the very office where we sat.

He is friend, and an interesting case in my mind. He had a long and successful career as an accountant and IT professional. He was a valued problem-solver who fixed really, really broken things using the kind of common sense that comes with someone possessed of a self-reliant mindset. Then the world changed and he didn’t. Maybe he couldn’t because he was set in his ways and did not want to learn anything new so late in his career, but more likely because his professional background and training did not allow him to see any change as an opportunity.

Did he drift through life without a purpose? No. He had the loving family, fulfilling career, some spare money. But he did choose not to finish his degree in accounting, a certificate that he was very well suite to (and would excel in). The discipline and awareness that professional certifications bring includes teaching an awareness of how fleeting success, employment, or happiness could be. At the end of a successful career he was “retired” by the company. Well taken care of, but he left knowing that he was no longer wanted, has not forgotten, and it still hurts him more than 11 years later.

Is it unkind to ask ‘so, what did you think would happen?’…if you did not finish your education? If you chose to fight change every time? If you did not see how you no longer ‘fit’ with the current situation at work?

My own experience has taught me not to leave my career in other people’s hands, and to make sure that I have something of value to offer. My credentials and experience are mine and cannot be chased away…the only one who can mess those up is me.

…back to high school career day…

Thinking of the people I graduated with, most landed as expected, and landed well – school, marriage, kids, career. Some landed in a very different spot…at age 17, did LD think that he would be a father at 19? Did MM, RL, PM, DD know that they would be married, divorced and re-married within 10 years? Did PA think he would have spent time in jail?

The choices that (not a small number of) my fellow grads made in the 10 short years since grad resulted in these people being in a very different and sometimes unpleasant spot than they may have assumed, if they had thought about it at all at graduation.

I am not suggesting that if you did not have a plan that you have now drifted into meaningless existence and deserve what you have received in your life. Far from it.  But any of us at any age can make a vision of where we are going to be in 5, 10, 20 years. You can help plant the seed in a new generation to think beyond the weekend. You can dream of where you want to be 10 years from now, and what kind of person you want to be, and start towards that goal.

I you don’t, what do you think will happen?

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