Any man who can hitch the length and breadth of the galaxy, rough it, slum it, struggle against terrible odds, win through, and still knows where his towel is is clearly a man to be reckoned with. – Douglas Adams
I was watching a video on YouTube of a visual facilitator and one of the exercises he started people off on was drawing their career history in a single line – something I’m going to call a lifeline.
It’s an interesting way to look at the ups and downs of what one has gone through.
When I look back at my experience it’s not really that exciting.
If I look back over the years, there are ups and downs.
I was lucky to have a background with lots of books – and I liked reading, which made it easier to learn things.
I didn’t know what I really wanted to do so I did what was expected of me.
Not enough though, because I didn’t get into certain majors but I studied how to study – and got the marks I needed.
That didn’t help all that much because I couldn’t find a job and started a PhD – which was pretty boring.
But I learned some things that were interesting along the way – mostly around driving computers and that was useful when it came to business problems involving data.
But then I had to learn how to manage people and that was much less fun than playing with code – and so I went back to uni and the books and learned some more about organisations.
And these days I write and draw and keep trying to learn – which is where you find me writing these words now.
Like I said – nothing very interesting.
But at the same time, it hasn’t been boring – not to me anyway.
Because there is so much out there now – so much to read and consider and learn – available in forms and ways that make it easy for you and me to follow whatever tendrils of thought happen to interest us.
And there’s an echo of this in Donald Knuth’s book Digital typography where he writes about why it’s important to find something of interest in what you are doing – and how it’s no one else’s responsibility but your own to do that.
Now, I also think there are a couple of interesting things about lifelines.
I suppose it would be nice to build from where you are rather than going downhill.
Some people seem to be able to skip the long plod, rocketing up to something they call success.
And somewhere along the way do you reach a point where you have enough, where you happy?
Or were you happy all the time?
Or were you waiting for things to happen to make you happy.
And, of course, people’s lifelines are ideally more complex – you’ve hopefully had relationships and families and all the things that matter.
And every once in a while it rains.
If you’re in a dip when that’s happening – I suppose it’s all the more reason to feel down.
When I look at this lifeline chart I think it tells you quite a lot about where you are right now.
Imagine it was a chart of a company’s stock price.
If you have a business with a decent product that people want you will probably grow over time, experiencing ups and downs along the way.
If you are a high growth business, fuelled by hope, then you might rise into the air, hoping that gravity doesn’t notice what you’re trying to do.
Or you might be in the wrong industry or get your timing wrong or make some bad decisions – and find your chart dipping down and to the right.
In the first and last case, time will tell what happens next.
In the middle case, however, which is probably the vast majority of us, the thing to remember is that dips are normal – even steep dips.
But if we’ve built what we have over time – then that lifeline should eventually start trending back up.
We just need to keep faith.