quoting the Chesire Cat

I have been contemplating a major career change for several years now. I’ve read a few books (including What Colour is Your Parachute which I highly recommend) and even had some career counselling (pricey but probably worth it; I came into some money that paid for it, if I recall).

One thing I’ve noticed about all the advice out there about choosing a job or changing career or whatever is that they frequently quote the Cheshire Cat in Alice in Wonderland. (Usually without attribution, BTW. I worked it out when reading it to my 7 year old recently.)

The line occurs when Alice is in a space with several doors leading out of it. She asks the Cheshire cat which door she should take. He asks her where she wants to go. She doesn’t know. So the cat says “If you don’t know where you are going, any road will take you there.”

Now this line usually gets used to stress the importance of working out where you want to go. Once you know that, you can work out how to get there. But working out what you want to do ‘when you grow up’ is incredibly difficult. Even with the assistance of great tools like those provided by Parachute and others. I frequently got stumped with that. I’ve also noticed (in hindsight, which has better vision as we all know) that I’ve learned something more about what I like to do, what I’m good at, what I don’t like to do, and what gets me upset/depressed/stressed with every job or experience.

So, I want to keep the quote (it’s a good one) but for a different purpose. If any road will do, then take a road that looks interesting and see where it leads you. Usually, there is some other road leading off it that might be more interesting and when you come across such a road you can decide whether you want to branch off in that direction. But there are very few roads that just run up against (apparently there is one in Fort McMurray, Alberta). Even then, you can just turn around and go back.

Thinking of that Cheshire Cat line this way is EXTREMELY liberating. It allows you to pick what you think is best without really knowing what your ultimate destination is. It focuses you on the present — what is the best choice now? Where might it lead? Will I get some good experiences out of it even if it leads somewhere crummy (and I’ve not been to Fort McMurray, so I’m not making any subtle points here, it might be nice)? And sometimes, you get to a place where there is a great road that you never even knew about sitting right there. And the experiences and the people you met on the last road make it possible to go down that road.

That’s what’s happened with this consulting thing. I think I’m really going to like it. I’m off to my first gig tomorrow. I’ve lined up a few more. I’ll sit back and evaluate in a few weeks time and make some plans. I’ve learned enough about what I liked and didn’t like in previous jobs (and other experiences) to know that this brings together some of the best bits and leaves out some of the worst. But I couldn’t have imagined doing this 2 years ago.

The job I took then was clearly a stop gap. I’d run out of my severance money. I’d been back in Canada for 6 months and needed to find something or it would be really unfair to drag by partner and daughter over here. It was related to what I had done before and had the potential to take me in a new direction. But it wasn’t a great job for me and I could see that from the beginning. I was good at it but it bored me to tears. However, that gravel road led to another job in the same organization that I loved. It was temporary but lasted almost a year. I met great people. I learned a lot. And here I am.

Now that I’m over 40 I think I’ve actually figured out some really important stuff. The big one is to enjoy the present. Also take a few risks (calculated risks maybe, but you’ll never have it all figured out). Appreciate your friends. You ARE worthy of their love. And ditch the folks who don’t appreciate you. You DON’T deserve that shit from them.

This is true for work. It is also true for relationships. We spend so much time worrying about the future (will it last? where is it going? etc) that we forget to enjoy and learn from where we are today. And then when it doesn’t work out, we have difficulty appreciating what was good about it only seeing the future that didn’t happen.

So this might be ‘what I’m going to do when I grow up’ or it might be what I’m going to do for the next little while (however long that is) and then I’ll see another interesting road and go down there. And I might stay with my partner (who has given up his job and moved across the Atlantic to a new country, found a new job, etc because he loves me so much) forever or I might not. I’m not worried about it. I haven’t seen a better road in that department for a while.

BTW the books are still good. They give you the tools to learn from your experience and the structure to sit down and think about it from time to time. Just ignore the bit about the importance of knowing where you are going. They help you figure out how to tell an interesting road from a really bumpy one.

Oh, did you want some knitting? still no photos of the shawl but I’ll try. Now working on a lacy scarf for a friend’s fiancée. Thinking about another scarf for a friend I might get to see for the first time in several years because he lives near one of these jobs I’ve got lined up (which means they pay my airfare). Started a Chicknits Ribby Shell in navy blue cotton (boring but useful). Knit a shell for the 7 year old in some stretchy cotton.

Oh, and thanks Laurie (Crazy Aunt Purl) for your last comment. Sorry I only read it today. See, I was thinking that all my lack of motivation to learn about HTML and how to link to stuff and getting photos in would make this blog dull and uninteresting (‘text heavy’ as one of my friends would say, can you tell he’s a communications prof?). But maybe that’s not the case. I’ll try to have something interesting to say at least once a week and see how that goes. Also, like Laurie, I haven’t worked out how to get the comments e-mailed to me. That explains the lack of reply, honest.

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2 thoughts on “quoting the Chesire Cat

  1. Jo, I can’t believe I only just noticed you have a blog! I enjoyed my speed read through the past entries. I, too, have always interpreted that Cheshire Cat quote in the open, accepting way (but sometimes I wonder if I’m totally off base). My work life has been a wandering one, and I often envy those who decided when they were 10 that they wanted to be, say, lawyers and then just did it. At 10 I wanted to be a librarian–and frankly that would have been a perfect career for me! Smart kid, confused young adult…
    It is just like the Cheshire Cat to say make a pronouncement that can be taken two ways, isn’t it?

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  2. yep when i grow up i want to be a doctor but but that is really far away in my world. It is always hard to know what is next and such.
    Are you in Ottawa? I found you through Cate and in her comments it says you are. I am heading back there in August.
    I use Photobucket to get the phots up, it’s easy and the HTML is required.

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