Last weekend marked the 35th anniversary of the release of George Lucas’ cultural phenomenon Star Wars. How I got to age 50 without seeing it I don’t know, but I decided to finally watch the famed trilogy because a kindred spirit told me I would particularly enjoy it at this point in my life.
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He was absolutely correct. The spiritual aspects were like a golden sermon from a wise preacher and, frankly, would have been lost on me 35 years ago. Or maybe I’m selling myself a little short.
“If you strike me down I’ll become more powerful than you could possibly imagine,” Obi-Wan Kenobi says to Darth Vader.
That kind of thinking has been motivating me for a long time. I just had never thought to actually voice it in such a spectacular way. It ebbs and flows, comes and goes.
Star Wars was a reminder, but this feeling came roaring back over the last week from another source, too. I received a request from a sweet high school student to be interviewed for a project she was working on about a career as a journalist/columnist. She sent me 10 questions to answer and I really enjoyed providing her with thoughtful, informative answers.
But what also emerged from the project, in reading between the lines of how some of her questions were worded, was a distinct feeling she was being discouraged from a writing career by one or more of the adults in her life. Suddenly it brought to mind that feeling of charting my own career path over the years and how I had to keep doing what I thought best despite those who -- let’s be real -- had no idea what was best for me and my life.
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Make no mistake about it, I have had some stellar mentoring and nurturing support in my career, and I have immense gratitude around that. But I learned very early on that it’s crucial to take all the counsel under advisement and then do what you want – really, need – to do. This is about big moments, big picture, and big decisions that ultimately rest with us. I can tick off choices I made that didn’t seem all that smart to anyone else. I regret not one of them.
That is what I was thinking about when I hit ‘send’ on the email to that student. I hoped she would read between my lines and follow her gut regardless of what anyone else thought. Further, the more I pondered it, I hoped my dear student would take that Obi-Wan Kenobi quote, print it in big bold letters and hang it next to her desk. Or wear it on a shirt. Maybe memorize it and unholster it like a light saber when someone questions why she wants to be a writer when there are better paying jobs. Or discourages her in any way from pursuing what clearly interests her.
What a fun club that is, the well-paid, miserable, slave to material possessions set. Cruise through some neighborhoods with perfect lawns and 2.3 cars in the driveway and take a peek behind the walls – there are some sad, stuck souls behind them. They’re the ones who went the societal or parental pressure route instead of the guy next door who became an accountant because he actually has a mind for numbers.
The key is to pursue a life purpose, to develop a natural skill or interest and see where it takes you. It doesn’t have to all be mapped out in advance. It doesn’t have to follow anyone else’s prescribed route. When I was in college and even working in my field already, there was no Internet. I could not have prepared for the precise work I am doing now because I couldn’t have known it would even exist. Who knows what technology will bring 20 to 30 years after today’s students graduate?
Ideally, you have a plan but you stay open to what presents itself, too.
You know how many people thought I lost my mind back in 1988 (my late 20s) when I left a job as the public relations director for a non-profit -- complete with my own office, travel and company-issued Amex – to work for a newspaper as an agate clerk? Does anyone today even know what that is? I coded horse racing results and box scores for the stats pages in the sports section. And it required working nights.
But I promised myself I’d get a beat within a year. First I took over a weekly community sports page that was being treated like an ugly stepchild. Then I asked my editor if I could anchor it with a column. Voila. Through that came a nice little “scoop” on the high school beat and I was promoted. It took seven months.
I share this also because too often I hear my life coaching clients tell stories of what went into their own decisions along the way and frequently they weren’t willing to do what they perceived as the less prestigious job or they listened to some naysayer or misguided parent. And sometimes those feelings linger into adulthood.
Now this high school student, along with others who have reached out to me over the years, has me thinking about where people get tripped up. It’s in not creating their life, not realizing this life is largely a result of their choices. No one else’s.
In my late 30s, more than a decade after making that life-altering decision to take the newspaper job, I made another move that raised some eyebrows. I worked for a major sports league and had a swanky office in a high rise across from Radio City Music Hall. It was a step up the ladder from the job I’d held before and clearly a blessing of sorts. But the environment felt staid and I quickly made the leap to a startup television network with a mission that excited me and a vibe that was more in line with my personality. I didn’t care that it put me back in a cubicle.
My faith in my work ethic and in a writing gift I have polished tirelessly since grade school made those decisions feel logical. No-brainers, even. In the 1980s when I returned to college after quitting a few years before, I told no one until I was already enrolled and had given notice at my run-of-the-mill 9-to-5 job. That’s because I knew some people would try to talk me out of it.
Yes, I’m one of those scrappy types who thrives on being told I can’t do something. It doesn’t take a therapist to figure out why the combination of Star Wars and this lovely, ambitious student served as a reminder of that.
Dear girl, please hear me. Read a lot. Write your butt off. Make your own decisions. Be open. Get your hands dirty.
As Yoda says, “You must feel the force around you.” It will feel like flow.
There’s a reason Lucas’ work stands up 35 years later.
Nancy Colasurdo is a practicing life coach and freelance writer. Her Web site is www.nancola.com and you can follow her on Twitter @nancola. Please direct all questions/comments to FOXGamePlan@gmail.com.