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What else do you want to do in your career? Maybe you should reconsider an old ambition.

Last week I did something I had wanted to do when I was younger: I drove across the U.S. of A. When I was a kid I had imagined how spectacular it would be to see for myself all the varied sights this country has to offer. I grew up in the cities and suburbs of Massachusetts, and over the years had seen the farms, small towns, seashores, forests, and mountains of New England. Those all have the beauty of home to me. But, to the west, it seemed everything rural was intensified. The villages were tinier, the plains were vaster, the mountains were more towering. At least, that was the sense I got from the photographs I had seen in magazines and the scenes I had watched in movies, which were the first things to spark my desire to take in these view first-hand.

Kansas

Kansas

As I got older, though, the proliferation and accessibility of photographs and scenes like those had slowly eaten away at that desire. You may have had the same experience. The first time you see the Rocky Mountains on film or on paper, it’s inspirational. The thousandth time you see them, it’s prosaic. You may still think they are beautiful, but you’ve seen them so many times, there is no sense of wonder or surprise. The urge to see these sights in person is dulled because you think, I’ve seen them in pictures so often, I can imagine what they look like for real.

Colorado

Colorado

Well, you can’t. You can’t even come close.

On my trip last week, once I had left the relative familiarity of the Appalachian Mountains, every hour seemed to bring something fresh and unexpected into view. Of course I knew what I was seeing – prairies and canyons and mesas – but I had not known what it would be like to see them. The detail, the scale, the dimensionality: the things that photographic imagery cannot capture are the very things that made these sights so moving and astonishing. Even the photographs I am including in this post are misleading; they are beautiful, even striking, but they do not convey the sublimity of the actual sights. I am certainly not even going to try to convey it in words. I will just tell you: if you enjoy these pictures, do not let yourself pass from this earth without seeing those places with your own eyes. Think about the difference between a kiss and reading about a kiss.

Utah

Utah

We live in an age of images, and their ubiquity makes it easy to overlook the disparity between image and reality. This is as true in our career journeys as it is in our physical journeys. We hear about other people’s jobs and professions and positions and responsibilities, and we develop an image of what their work must be like. Maybe early on we are intrigued, but as we grow older and the image grows more and more familiar, we can lose that curiosity and come to assume that we know what that job is all about. It’s a false familiarity that may not breed contempt, but might diminish the sense of inspiration that is usually needed to start moving down a new path.

Nevada

Nevada moon

If you have thought about pursuing a certain post or vocation, but never acted upon that thought, consider whether you might have grown to focus on the anemic image rather than the stirring reality. Perhaps you should look more closely at that work – shadow someone who is already doing it or try it out in a voluntary capacity. After all, people are often encouraged to take on in internship in a field just to make sure that the reality lives up to their expectations. Doesn’t it make just as much sense to check out whether the reality of a vaguely appealing job might actually outdo the image?