Life doesn’t just happen. Well actually it does, but there are a zillion opportunities for you to chart and then steer your own path through it by how you react to the opportunities and challenges that life offers. The choices you make (shall I marry Ron Wallace or one of the other fine contenders?), the compromises you’re willing and able to sustain (if I marry Ron Wallace, we’re not going to be rich but I’ll be a lot happier than with the Prince behind door #2, besides which I’m quite capable of earning a good living), the serendipity to which many of us are subject if we’ll only seize the moment (how lucky I was to have been born into a family/religion/cultural community that valued education and rewarded academic accomplishment or here I am at the University of Pennsylvania, a really top school, even if I’m working my way through and unable to participate as fully in campus life as some of my more affluent classmates), and the shit that happens (what do you mean I’ve got arthritis and fibromyalgia when I’m clearly in my prime? what do you mean my husband has cancer and I need both shoulders repaired?). Choices, compromises, serendipity and shit — these are indeed the four winds blowing every life around.
In real life, some people, just by the accident of their birth, really do get more shit than anyone deserves and are given very limited choices. But for those of us born into reasonable circumstances and with a reasonable amount of intelligence (or at least the potential for acquiring same) and good health, therefore for most readers of this blog, what we accomplish in life has a lot to do with:
- the choices we make from the smorgasbord of possibilities that our lives present,
- the compromises, really sacrifices, we’re willing and able to make in support of those choices,
- the effectiveness of our responses to the serendipitous opportunities that our lives present, and
- our ability to handle the inevitable shit, and I don’t simply mean here the fall-out from our bad choices, poor compromises or ineffective seizing of the opportunities but rather the really bad stuff that’s not in any way our fault.
Are you wondering what got me started on this topic which may seem very far afield from my usual posts? The simple answer is aging. As the years in front are increasingly outnumbered by the years behind, it’s a wise person who takes stock of what they’d like to do/see/experience/learn/etc. during those years in front and how and with whom they would like to spend their precious time. A more culturally-specific answer is that these are the Days of Awe, between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, the period in the Jewish yearly cycle when we are commanded to take stock and to rededicate our lives to higher purpose. We are also commanded, during this period, to resolve outstanding earthly issues before we seek atonement during Yom Kippur for our spiritual ones.
But the very Naomi-specific answer is that I’m a methodical, list-making, over-analyzing, searcher after mental models and taxonomies. I’ve approached every important part of my life with as much careful research and preparation as I could muster at the time, working hard to understand my real choices (often more than I realized at first glance), just what was lurking under the surface of various compromises that would come back to haunt me later, how truly serendipitous an opportunity might be versus arriving as a result of long-standing effort and deliberate seed-planting, and (after the usual railing at the G-ds when misfortunate strikes) accepting/working with/overcoming life’s shit with the best grace I could muster. And now, with the convergence of my 65th birthday, the Days of Awe, and such a dismal set of global and American challenges, it seems like as good a time as ever to do a little extra reflection, analysis, list-making and rededication.
Is there any possible connection between all of this and what’s happening — or should happen — in my professional neighborhood, at the corner of HRM and IT? Absolutely! The compass rose of life can be applied to every aspect of life, from developing HRM strategies to selecting and implementing HR technology to deciding who to hire. Charting a course that selects the best possible path through each of these situations requires making the best possible choices, accepting and then making work appropriate compromises, seizing the opportunities that present themselves, and dealing with the inevitable shit. Charting that course takes considerable knowledge (yes, that’s where the heavy lifting begins), ongoing discipline (more heavy lifting), real insight into deciding what’s important and why (oops, sounds like deep fact-finding, analysis and introspection), a willingness to take action and then commit yourself, when the inevitable shit hits the fan, to doing the right thing and making your choices and compromises (assuming they were sufficiently wise) succeed. A heavy load indeed, for one’s professional and personal life, but there’s really no other good option. Steer your own course wisely or be at the mercy of those who would steer it for you.