I know why you’re here, Neo. I know what you’ve been doing. I know why you hardly sleep, and why night after night you sit at your computer. You’re looking for him. I know, because I was once looking for the same thing. And when he found me, he told me I wasn’t really looking for him, I was looking for an answer. It’s the question that drives us, Neo. It’s the question that brought you here. You know the question, just as I did.
That’s one of my favorite “drama building” lines in The Matrix. It’s the scene where Neo meets Trinity. The reason I’m using it as a quote is because I’ve felt kind of that way sometimes and I’m pretty sure I am not alone in that feeling. Ask yourself one, any or all of the following questions and you’ll understand in case you haven’t yet.
Hard questions, all of them, and typically the ones a friend, a colleague, even the right boss or a coach would tell you to ask yourself. I’ve found that no matter what you’re doing at your current job or how well or bad you’re doing the fact is you can always answer these questions. Almost always anyway.
There is a place in time where things get confusing. It is a place where decisions matter more than in any other place in your career, a place where a bad decision is way heavier than a good one and one where we tend to miss-interpret or ignore the real signs that might be telling you exactly what to do.
You know the place, you’ve probably been there or might be stuck at it right now.
Here’s an exercise for you. First, imagine a Timeline that starts the day you got your current job, or your first day at it. Draw the line going from that point onwards. Now, at about 6/10’s of it, draw a mark (I’ll explain that later on), a milestone. That’s where you are at right now. It should look like this more or less:
In any given line there’s an infinite amount of dots that compose it. We can’t go infinitesimally small here but rather, we can think of other marks just as the one you put up there signaling this very same moment in that timeline.
What that mark signals is your present. Answer some of the questions above and that mark becomes thicker and thicker. Your trace becomes heavier. You begin to understand, even if not entirely, why and how you got there.
Now go back. You have some answers based on those questions (and others you might be making yourself right now) and you can choose. What needs to be chosen? Focus on milestones such as the mark you just edged in that timeline. Try to find the pivotal moments that, based on either your decision, context or a mix of both took you from one to the other and inevitably to where you are right now: thinking about leaving this job but not really doing anything about it. Put a mark on that timeline between the start point and your present point. Remember, only put a mark for those that really meant something.
Here’s what mine looked like when I tried it for the first time, some 10 years ago. It’s very basic yes, but it does tell a story.
Remember I told you to place that one mark a bit past the middle of your Timeline? The reason is simple: that Timeline represents your current job alone. The answers you gave yourself a few paragraphs above are also only about this job alone but mostly, they are answers about you AT this job alone, a job you feel is no longer what you need or what you want. It all points out in one direction: you’re past the point where you can expect the context to be bigger than your decisions. That’s the midpoint in any job: it’s when you decide to go beyond what’s given.
Moving beyond that point signals growth. Biggest fear of most Companies and Bosses is that once you pass that point you realize your potential might be better used somewhere else and leave them after they’ve invested and spent so much in you.
It’s a gamble fort hem because ultimately, it is up to you.
Did you notice the question mark at the end of that Timeline? There’s a reason for it, a very simple one: you never know what’s ahead yet you know you will get there.
The trick is to keep that Timeline live. Don’t just do it once, keep adding marks as you remember those moments and evaluate them. Use it as a way to navigate your memory and analyze them, try to remember why you did what you did and see if you understand how those actions took you where you are.
The final question I urge you to make yourself is as simple as the others ones above but now, after reading through this post, maybe it’s significance will be bigger for you, as it was for me when I first came by it. Look at your timeline. Look at what got you from where you where to where you are at. Remember the steps that took you there, your decisions, how you felt. Don’t think of it in terms of “the inevitable” but rather think of it as something you can learn from and then simply ask yourself:
WHAT WILL YOU DO NEXT?
Also published on Medium.