Making big changes in your life is very difficult, especially if you are not entirely sure how you are going to do it. There’s an expectation that you have to have a plan for everything before you start. Something in our heads tells us we need to have a plan from a-to-z and not just a-to-b.
Anyone who has ever been in the military knows how difficult it is to get out. It is the job of a re-enlistement officer to sit down with you and try to get you to re-enlist. Unlike the first recruiter you spoke to, this guy can’t make you unrealistic promises of a fantastic life in the military (travel, adventure, etc). Instead, the re-enlistment officer scares you with the prospect of unemployment. At 22 years old and contemplating leaving the Army as my four-year enlistment was up, the re-enlistement officer hit me with all the scary questions:
“So if you leave the Army, what will you do then?”, he asked.
“I don’t know. Go to school, I guess.” I answered. I felt guilty because I didn’t have an exact plan to give him.
“Ah. So you’re going to make your wife work for you, huh?”
“Well, no. I’ll get a job.” I say defensively.
“What if you can’t get a job? It’s a tough world out there. Believe me, I’d hate to see a bright guy like you out on the streets.”
He then asks questions about how I will handle my medical expenses and all that other stuff that a 22-year-old shouldn’t be concerned with. I was so close to re-enlisting out of fear that it scares me today. I would have been a staff sargeant now, probably. I’d be one of those miserable people I worked with who talked about retiring in just 14 short years. Then life would really start, I suppose.
The re-enlistment officer almost had me because he wanted me to justify my entire future to him. He wanted me to tell him my entire plan for the rest of my life. I didn’t have a plan. I still don’t. I have a rough idea, but I’m still open to the idea of new opportunities arising.
But, luckily, I held my breath and jumped. At the last minute (literally), I decided not to re-enlist. I didn’t know what I was going to do, but I knew I needed to change something in my life. I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do, but I was sure I didn’t want to be a carreer soldier. I traded job security for an unknown future. I was terrified, but it worked out in the end.
This doesn’t just happen in the military.
The same thing happened several years ago when I was working too long in a job I couldn’t stand. I was miserable in this job but was afraid to leave. The old job security phantom was keeping me there. It was during the dot com bust and it seemed that everyone was out of work. For a while, I kept sending my CV out but didn’t get anything but a few interviews. Everyone in the market was available immediately (because they had been made redundant) and I had a one-month notice period to contend with. Finally, after about a year of fruitless job searching, I decided to leave.
I quit my job without another one to go to. I had no savings and two kids. Again, I was terrified. Again, I heard the same questions:
“What are you going to do?”
“What if you don’t find anything?”
“You have a family to think of. What about them?”
Everyone wanted me to explain myself and tell them my whole plan for the future. I didn’t know my whole plan. I didn’t know how to get from a-to-z, but I knew what a-to-b was: I needed to leave (then I would look for c).
It was tough, but the risk paid off. Very well. Other people (who were even more miserable than I was) stayed with the company until they were made redundant.
I’m all for planning. When possible, I will have a strategy mapped out. I always prefer certainty to uncertainty. Sometimes you really need a plan (you wouldn’t topple a dictator without knowing how to set up the ensuing government, for example). But sometimes you just need to take the plunge and get started. When everything is riding on that decision, you’re mentality changes. From the comfort zone, everything looks hard. When you take the plunge, you find ways to cope with the difficulties and move towards the direction you want to go.
I hate to be the geek who quotes movie lines, but . . .
As Indiana Jones says?”I’m making this up as I go.”