The Long (and Short) Of Things

A few years ago, I read a piece by David Brooks entitled “The Summoned Self” that has remained fresh and relevant as time and life continue on.  Given what I believe is a relevant message for young professionals, and  really people of any age or stage of life, this blog post is my personal reinterpretation and synthesis of Brooks’ piece, through the lens of my own life and experiences as a millennial and person experiencing rapid-fire change both professionally and personally.

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Having lost a parent at a fairly early age, I am constantly trying to reconcile my long and short-term goals and views, both personally and professionally. This often looks like an internal dialogue that mimics a pendulum swinging between thoughts regarding “live in the present moment and enjoy it to its fullest” to the extreme of “what do I really want to accomplish—to achieve in my lifetime?”

Having discussed these states of being with many friends and colleagues, in many different contexts and subtexts, it seems this oscillation between the quotidian and the profound, the domestic and the daring, is fairly universal.

More simply said, it seems that having to decide on the “best” decision at a certain moment versus the long-term impact this decision might have when paired with subsequent decisions is simply a necessary feat in order to live from one day to the next.

While I might conclude that there is really no option but to act on the decision that elicits the most confidence and to then proceed with unflappable conviction, I believe that perhaps one of the biggest challenges young professionals must face is how to balance the two—i.e. to accept a healthy amount of organic evolution of their career and life while still steering their ship towards long-term goals that align with personal ambitions and aspirations.

As it’s graduation season, it’s perhaps best to illustrate this idea when considering one’s initial departure from academic life. After graduating from academia, this line of dual decision-making becomes omnipresent. It is also at this time that a legible fork in the road becomes highly visible.

What does this fork look like, you might ask, and where do the roads lead?

Speaking only from personal experience, watching myself and peers figure out our own “paths” post graduation, years later these roads continue to look like two different approaches to what I still hope will be a similar outcome.

The first is the pursuit of what might best be called a “set course,” inclusive of a decided upon career, place to settle, and ultimately—a multidimensional life comprised of what one might consider “predictable” decision making. In many ways this path is the foundation of American life in the mid 20th century; a time when pursuing a “stable” career and domestic bliss would lead to known “success” related to specific decisions and actions (some might still refer to this as one manifestation of “the American dream.”)

The second path, which seems increasingly popular in this mobile and global lifetime, looks more like a Robert Frost poem. “Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.”

Perhaps the first true millennial, Frost might have suggested that exploring a new path is a chance to explore and evolve, all the while not really knowing what the set outcome might be, but pursuing one decision to the next in order to find out.

At the precipice of my 30’s, I’m finding that the paths of the millennial generation, both “less” and/or “more” traveled, are beginning to converge (after a decade of what one might only describe as exciting divergence.)

While some of my contemporaries chose to settle into careers and family life shortly after school, they are now in many ways beginning their Frost-like journeys, having achieved success at an early age. Others continue to explore, waiting to see where they land. The majority, it seems, are still in the middle, starting to make decisions that might lead to less physical movement and a greater sense of investment in people and place, but all the while trying to stay cognizant of which way the scales his/her decisions might tip; short and long, present and future.

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