About eighteen months ago, after a particularly unsatisfactory experience with one of the “clients” I work with at my job, I came to the conclusion that I needed to expand my career in new directions. First, I should explain that what I do for a living is design and develop training programs. I create the lesson plans for instructors, workbooks and lab exercises for students, determine what items should be taught, in what order, using which instructional methods. I also create “self-pace” training programs, those mostly dreadful computer presentations that pass for most of what corporations use to “train” employees these days.
For the past fourteen years, the majority of the training I have designed has been technical in nature; teaching technicians how to install or repair equipment or teaching consultants how to install, set up or use software programs. The aforementioned unsatisfactory experience involved similar training, but using YouTube to train a less technically savvy audience, which angered this particular client who saw this as threatening their monopoly on service responsibility. I should note here that the company we both work for, this “client” and I, had determined that this audience needed training and the client had not been consulted in that decision, so his displeasure was directed as much at the organization as at me. Nevertheless, his opposition to the new and innovative training techniques I was employing was rooted in long-seated distrust of the training department and a general view of training and trainers based on the old adage “If you can’t do, teach”.
At that time, eighteen months ago, I realized that I had accomplished all that I really needed to in my career with regard to technical training, and that if I wanted to grow as a training professional (and yes, despite my client’s unenlightened opinion, training is a profession), I needed to begin to develop experience in soft-skills training and leadership development. I needed to move beyond my comfort zone. This is why, for the past year and a half I have been in the job market, my current employer lacking the interest in, or commitment to this type of training to provide any significant opportunities in this arena.
Despite my unhappiness, and my acknowledgement of the need to grow, and the necessity to change my circumstances in order to make that happen, I have often found it difficult to keep focused on the job search. It is easier, sometimes, to wallow in self-pity, or to feed my anger at an employer that fails to meet my needs and expectations. One’s comfort zone is, after all, so comfortable and familiar and well, easy to remain in.
Recently, however, something very significant has changed. My comfort zone is just not comfortable anymore.
Last week I watched the movie Invictus, and received some real insight into my situation. This movie is the well-told tale of how Nelson Mandela used the South African National Rugby Team to help break down the walls between the black and white communities in the nation when he came to power at the end of apartheid. He urges and inspires the Afrikaner team captain, Francois Pienaar to take the chronically under-performing squad to the Rugby World Cup finals, which were to be held in South Africa about two years after Mandela’s election to office.
In the movie there is a scene where, the morning after the team improbably wins their semi-final match in Cape Town, Francois leads his teammates in a dawn run through the city streets to the docks where he surprises them with a trip to Robben Island, where Nelson Mandela spent much of his 30 year imprisonment at the hands of the apartheid regime. When the team is shown Mandela’s cell during the tour of the prison, as the rest of the team passes by to continue the tour, Francois steps into the cell and closes the door behind him, then stretches out his arms, which reach nearly from wall to wall. This scene has been playing in my head a lot lately. I think that I have come to see my comfort zone as more like a prison cell. It is something I need to escape, something I need to leave behind, not remain cooped up in.
In a later scene in the movie, on the eve of the finals Francois is shown staring down from his hotel room onto Ellis Park Stadium, the site of the final, lost in thought. His girlfriend Nerine walks in and asks him an innocent question, “Thinking about tomorrow?” His answer is far more profound than she, or perhaps the audience, expects.
“No. Tomorrow’s taken care of, one way or another. I was thinking about how you spend 30 years in a tiny cell, and come out ready to forgive the people who put you there.”
Most people will focus, understandably on the second half of Francois’ comment. It is indeed profound; perhaps the emotional cornerstone of the movie. But the first half of the statement is no less profound. This is the eve of the biggest game of his life, the most important game in his sport, and his team is carrying the hopes and aspirations of an entire nation of 42 million people on their shoulders, a country emerging from terrible darkness and hungry for proof that they are worthy of place among the great nations of earth. Yet he can say that “tomorrow’s taken care of, one way or another.” Such a willingness to accept that the future is not in his control, that he’s done all that he can and now can only surrender his fate to whatever powers there be, is indeed powerful, and profound.
In the heat of my struggle to renew and reinvigorate my career, I’m still working to accept Pienaar’s great line in my life… BOTH halves of it…