I have this recurring dream where I’m sitting in the passenger seat of a car desperately trying to steer the vehicle. My feet can’t reach the pedals, my arms can’t reach the steering wheel, there’s no one in the driver’s seat, but yet the car is moving. I feel sick and I panic and keep trying to control the situation to no avail. It doesn’t take much to analyze what this dream is really about : feeling like I am not in control of the direction of my life. It is a feeling that makes me uncomfortable no matter how many times I have experienced it. Sometimes there are forces that are much larger than me that have defeated my plans. It happens to everyone. There are two ways to respond to unforeseen obstacles : keep trying and hope for a change in circumstances or change course. Either of these responses may be appropriate, but it really depends on the situation. It is only in hindsight that we are able to see which was the right choice.
A nasty side effect of having so much faith in my ability to achieve whatever I set my mind to is a reluctance to change direction when things don’t go as planned. The reality that I do not like to admit is that sometimes it’s better to go with the flow instead of resisting it. For years, I thought I wanted to work in a university library, and it took many rejections before I finally admitted it just wasn’t a good career path for me. It was after I accepted that I was not meant for academia that I discovered government law librarianship. As much as those job rejections hurt, I probably would not have bothered to apply for my current position in a courthouse library if I had not been open to the possibility that I was wrong about the career path I thought I wanted. Sometimes not getting what you want is a blessing in disguise. I am very happy to have discovered this little-known niche of librarianship, and only wish I had learned about it sooner. Then again, maybe I had to go through the disappointment of discovering that my chosen career path was not as great as I thought it would be before I could accept an alternative that was better for me.
Some of my greatest achievements in life, both person and professional, were less likely the result of a strategic plan in which I followed steps to their logical conclusion than fortuitous circumstances I had little control over. I am not suggesting that one should never plan for anything. I can never be the kind of person who floats through life from day to day with no direction. I am advocating for a happy middle ground in which one plans for a variety of options and moves forward based on which option meets the least resistance. This may go contrary to your personality and the way you were taught to create and execute plans. Normally, when we write out a plan it has steps that flow directly from one to the next. There is never any room for error or external barriers. Most organizations see admitting that you do not 100% control everything as a sign of personal weakness. Of course, that’s absurd, because no one controls the entire universe. There are always forces that are larger than we are that control the course of our life such as pandemics, the global economy, natural disasters etc. You can either desperately try to control the situation like me in my recurring dream, or you can relax and accept that wherever you end up is where you need to be.
Notes Between Us (NBU) is a blog about conversations and topics of interest to the writers. The writers are expressing their personal opinions solely. The essays represent their personal beliefs and not that of their workplaces or any organization they are associated with.