The path of least resistance

When starting out, finding your way in the professional world can be tough. And tiresome. Sometimes you take the first opportunity that looks good, just to get your path started. You find what’s next by lucky chance and follow where it goes. You follow without much thought. You go along.

Going along looks like taking an opportunity and following it without question. Going along is often the easy path. You take what’s given. You make decisions by default. Years going by without realizing it.

It's easy to follow the path of least resistance. Especially when you have in-demand skills like software development. You take a step. Then another step. Sometimes, you take so many steps that you land in an unfamiliar place.

Justin took step after step, taking new opportunities as they presented themselves. He found himself managing a large department. Over time his enjoyment waned. When he found himself there, he took a pause. To think about what was most important. He remembered, or maybe he figured out what made him happiest. Justin went back to focusing on technology. He relinquished his management position, allowing someone else to mind the team. Friction removed, Justin is back to a path of least resistance, albeit one that is more consciously defined. 

Sometimes the path of least resistance leads to a place of professional fulfillment. Once in a while this happens completely by accident.

After navigating a fulfilling but largely accidental career path, Eric found something he really wanted to do. Eric held a dream in his hand. He walked towards it. On the path of it (literally) things broke down. His foot specifically. On the Pacific Crest Trail, just miles into his journey. He had to abandon that dream. Instead of jumping back in, he stopped. He reflected on what he wanted. Not on the titles, the followers, or reputation. He pondered the big questions. What did he want? Was technology even what he wanted? By asking the big questions of himself, he discovered his answers. He decided to continue with his current work — the project he’d been devoted to before the hike. What had started accidentally turned into a purposeful commitment which he now works on full time.

You might find, as Eric did, that you want to continue on that journey. Or you might find like Justin that you want a different journey. Having stepped back to consider that which you deem to be essential, you commit, consciously to the new direction.  It’s not the path that’s important, it’s the choice. Specifically, making a conscious choice. That’s how you get out of the spiral of path of least resistance.

That’s not to say that the path of least resistance is all bad.

And it doesn’t mean the opposite is true. That to succeed, you have to push yourself more and more.

Careers don’t have to be a “no pain, no gain” sort of affair. Nor do they need to be a well-plotted linear path drawn up when you were 18, 21 or even 25. Sometimes a lack of resistance is a good thing. To have your career feel like you’re floating along on a river, reaching one interesting shore after another. Career fulfillment can look like this too. There might be effort, but not striving. 

Striving is a constant pushing, sleepless night, long hours, anxiety ridden afternoons when you wonder if you’ll ever reach the next landmark. Striving is second guessing yourself, never feeling good enough, or that anything will ever be enough. Striving is a relentless drive for perfection. This is not the path of least resistance.

This kind of path of least resistance flows, one that can bring career contentment. It comes when you know yourself. A willingness to listen to your instincts, rather than the latest shiny thing, or what’s expected of you. It requires a level of introspection.

Nadia wanted to learn how to dance. She found a class. Stood proudly in the front of the class. She wasn’t the best one. She didn’t stomp away unhappy. She pulled out her phone and started recording herself. It wasn’t to take glee in her dance abilities. She focused on how to improve. Nadia found a way of observing herself in order to become conscious of her motions. She improved. And she found her flow as a dancer. Looking at herself with a critical eye, Nadia focuses her gaze on where she wants to go. And, it translates into her work as a software developer.

Lynne realized she didn't have any dreams. Not the far-fetched kind that matter. Things were fine. She had solid work and money in the bank. Still, she longed to have a bigger dream -- to dig into something fulfilling. Something of her own. But she had no idea what that was. While she waited to get clarity on that dream, Lynne looked for a job. But the process of finding the right fit was painful. On long runs she thought about what she really wanted. And, she thought about how to make the job hunt easier. That's how she found her next dream. Rather than keep pushing hard on something that wasn't working, she stopped and started working on solving her problem. By creating Key Values, Lynne found her path of least resistance. But one that was really fulfilling and one of her own design.

You don’t  find the place of flow by quitting when it gets hard. Or by admiring yourself in the mirror or marveling at everything you can do. You find a way to improve, without all that striving. Or you take a look at yourself from the inside out to discover a bigger dream than just having steady work.

Career fulfillment happens when you find a path of least resistance that feels good. One that feels like flow.

To find it you need to slow down. Put down the coffee cup. Clear your schedule, even for a just a bit. Take a breath. Go inside. Discover what's essential for you, what actually matters. It takes knowing yourself, plenty of introspection and maybe a little bit of guts to follow your path of least resistance.