In my experience, structuring out one’s life path event by event is akin to writing up a Pirate’s Code. On one side of this analogy, we’re writing a Code of Conduct for a host of sea raiders and expecting them to sit down and parley. If I’m writing down a detailed life plan, I might be ignoring the fact that life is a tumultuous storm of coincidence. In both cases, our stress over future prospects takes control, cumulating in a document that disregards our present circumstances. The documents are more like guidelines, really.
To represent my analogy in reality, I spoke with two men working at Grinnell College, both of whom have considerably more experience with this whole ‘life’ thing than I do. I asked them a very simple question: how did you end up here?
By chartering out the interviewee’s life path, I wanted to discover the types of circumstances that influenced their career choices. With guided questions, I had the interviewee picture themselves as Pocahontas sitting in her canoe, floating down towards the precipice of two major life choices (note: all quotes in this article best read out loud in a Grandmother Willow voice).
First I spoke with Daniel Reynolds, German, (no relation to the Imagine Dragons front man). Reynolds originally studied economics at Georgetown University.
Reynolds spoke to his personal experience with a changeable life plan. “[During my undergraduate] I never thought about a career in academia. I started in economics knowing I wanted some kind of international contact, but I had no clear idea about how that would come about…but I think my study abroad experience in Germany changed everything for me.”
He then elaborated on this experience and discussed how it changed his self-perspective.
“I went there studying economics, and I just loved my life in Germany. I had an amazing experience in Germany. There, it was a set of circumstances that influenced me. I think it was just feeling kind of disenchanted with the subject [economics] I had chosen.”
As someone who has also studied abroad, I know firsthand that immersing oneself in another country can dig up prospects for new life passions. I highly recommend the experience for anyone who feels lost in the sea of life. A new start in another country can be exactly what you need to discover yourself. But enough about myself. Let’s talk about our esteemed elders.
To discover more about this thing we call life, I spoke with John Leris, a supervisor at the Spencer Grill and Presentation Cook at the Dining Hall.
Leris had a more straightforward path than Reynolds. “I did what I always wanted to do. I was building ever since I was a kid, and I build houses, I got into construction when I was fourteen and did that until I was thirty,” Leris said.
His experiences were not easy, though. Leris elaborated on the perspectives life had given him through those working years. “When you’re young, you have a lot of learning to do, and I made my own share. [Bulding] is a bit like life — you make mistakes and you learn from them. Don’t let disappointment in life get you down, just build up from it.”
A common trend in both discussions was the need for flexibility.
Reynolds spoke about the merits of new workplace experiences, and how they could give us new insights if we keep our minds open.
“What I learned from [my time abroad in Germany] was that being open to opportunities to expose yourself to new things is extremely important. You don’t have to know where it’s going to take you. We have our ideas about careers, but until you actually have a job, it’s tough to predict the day-to-day basis.”
Leris agreed with this observation. He added that learning from the mistakes we make in life was an equally valuable trait.
“You can make [mistakes] make you stronger. But you can’t figure that out immediately when you’re eighteen to twenty-one. It takes time.”
Overall, what I discovered from these conversations might make some Pocahontas fans rather disappointed. We as human beings rarely face a choice between two equally tantalizing options laid bare before our feet. It seems instead that these ‘life roads’ look nothing like bends in a river. Growth opportunities appear more frequently as small details in our environment, crucial seconds in time that only a flexible mindset is prepared to perceive. Passion is a lesson we realize through our own mistakes.
Here’s the crux of what I, and my interviewees seem to be saying: don’t fear failure. Embrace it with open arms and learn from it.
You may also like.