After a lot of soul searching and eighteen years in our family’s manufacturing business, I decided it was time to consider moving on to a new career. My family supported my desire and generously allowed me to work part time while I investigated other possibilities.
While having extensive experience in engineering, IT, and administration, I looked at my resume as a list of things I really no longer want to do. I had studied in the field of personal development for many years, and thought of that as a possibility. Jim (ReGENERATION Partners) had suggested canvassing networking contacts to look outside my box for possibilities that I didn’t even consider.
With a freshly written resume, I began to network. I felt somewhat lost, though, treading on ground entirely unfamiliar to a guy who had spent almost his entire working life inside operations in a small company with a narrow niche. Canvassing my contacts, I discovered that in order for them to help me, I needed to have a better idea of what I wanted. I considered consulting, but unfortunately my greatest talent base was in the field that I was trying to get out of. Personal coaching sounded interesting, but the money appeared inadequate. I thought about buying a business or even just getting a new job.
One thing I had was an ample supply of uncommitted time. With that in mind, I signed up for a two-week seminar in the LA area. I’d determined to come back from LA with a decision on my career direction. Flying over the mountains into LA, I decided to take a trip into the mountains for some solitude; where I could have contemplation time and really think about my next career move.
I traveled on California Highway 2 into the mountains’ Angeles National Forest. Not knowing the territory, and needing an “Adventure Pass” to use the parking facilities, I stopped at a ranger station. I asked the volunteer if he could recommend a place for walking. He suggested a public park nearby, named Switzer’s.
Looking for a place to reflect, I began walking along a path, besides a lazy stream, towards a place a sign claimed was a mile away called Switzer’s Falls. I started out in the picnic area of the public park. However, noisy fellow travelers crowded the trail; not exactly conducive to quiet contemplation still, the location was both beautiful and available.
The marked trail crisscrossed over the stream and through the shadows of the trees. After about one-half mile of walking, I came to a fork in the trail. A sign on a tree had an arrow pointing to the right, indicating the way to the falls. Unfortunately, it also had another arrow pointing to the left! The arrow pointing right was obviously the sign’s original indicator. Amusingly, someone had carved the left pointing arrow deeply into the brown wooden sign. I wondered: was the leftward arrow a joke, or a good-faith effort to correct an error? I decided that as there was no way to tell, short of actually walking the paths, I would follow the official route.
The official route was a dirt and rock path, on the gentle incline, up the side of the mountain. Slowly it rose above the forest as I walked the contours of the hillside. The clouds grayed up a bit, and a few drops of rain fell. I was grateful for the small amount of relief from the heat. A little concerned for my camera, but grateful nonetheless.
I found the winding path delightful. Some trees and some (to me) new and and unusual flora lined the way. Lizards scurried before me. The clouds cleared, and the sun shone brightly through the clear blue sky. Rounding each bend revealed another view of the gorgeous mountain vista. I pressed onward, eagerly anticipating what I might find around each corner.
I also found myself finally alone, except for the birds and lizards and insects. Better yet, I discovered a natural rock bench right by the trail, tailor-made for meditation. There I sat quietly with my thoughts, absorbing the heat and treasuring the songs that poured from the life in the mountains. I didn’t, however, hear any thunderclaps or have any grand inspiration about my career. Having enjoyed some simple quiet time, I got up and resumed my adventurous march.
I continued along the path, until I decided with some sorrow that it was time to turn around, even though I had not yet seen the falls, I enjoyed the trip back as much as the one out, though as is the case with return journeys it was more like enjoying an old friend then meeting a new one. I passed the rock bench, the same trees and plants, and rounded the same corners. I heard raucous laughter echoing up from the valley below, and wondered if the noise was coming from the base of the falls.
It was then that I saw another of the brown National Forest signs, like the one that had confusingly steered me on the path. While I’d seen it on the way up, I didn’t really get the message until the return trip. Its yellow arrow pointed in the direction which I started and said, “Switzer’s 1.4 miles.” Finally, I’d gotten my message from the mountain.
“Pick a path and set out,” it said. “Along the way, the signs will be confusing if not downright contradictory. Keep plugging on your chosen path. You may end up in a different place than the one anticipated, but you’ll enjoy the journey and travel even farther than you planned.” And I did find what I was looking for, a quiet place to sit and think. If the laughing I’d heard came from the falls, I probably wouldn’t have found it there.
While that message may seem a little vague, it led me to decide to choose the path to which my heart was most attatched: leveraging my avocation interest in personal development into corporate training, coaching and consulting, I could have come away with any number of conclusions including one that would say be careful reading signs! I could have come up with one that my conclusion wouldn’t get me where I was going, but it might be a a pleasant divergence. I could have come away with the conclusion that official advice points the wrong way. Yet the message to follow my heart was a good beginning, simple and clear. It felt right to me.
Providential? Maybe. But the magic of self-discovery in a simple trip in the mountains lies not necessary in providence, but in how we individuals find our own personal meaning. Psychologists have long recognized a human pattern called projection, where people tend to see their inner conflict in those around them more than in themselves. The mind apparently employs projection in an attempt to work out problems without having the burden of owning them personally. Too often, we deny possibility. Too often we clutter our thinking with the “yes, buts” of self-limiting beliefs of uncertainties. (Recall the story of the jackass who starved to death unable to decide between two equally scrumptious loads of hay!) Searching for an answer by looking, listening or feeling in the outside world is simply deliberately using one of the mind’s natural strategies for unconscious problem solving.
I set out with an intention of choosing a path in life. A stranger directed me to a path in a mountain forest. When I got there I didn’t reason through my choices, weighing the pros and cons of each. I didn’t look for signs, trying to read meaning into my environment. Nor did I nervously hope for grand inspiration. I simply held my intention in the back of my mind, and enjoyed the walk.
Occasionally relevant thoughts would come to mind, but I made no effort to dwell on them. I even felt some small sense of disappointment that I’d gotten headed back with no answers.Disappointed that I might return to LA with no better idea what to do than when I set out that morning.
When I sat that last sign though, my answer crystallized. I accepted it without argument. Three days after I returned home, I got a call from a friend who works for a major defense contractor. Could I help her with a training program she had to do that day? Providence?