October 2015 Article
You have a personal radar and probably didn't even know it. The hardest part is detecting its signals, then learning how to trust the message your radar sends out. With all of the crazy things going on in your life right now – upcoming graduation, entry into the professional world, and all the hopes and dreams of things to come – it's easy to ignore those radar signals in your head when they warn of oncoming trouble.
I'm talking about trouble that can make you veer away from a future of happiness and fulfillment.
I'll tell you my story so you can see what I'm talking about. When I graduated from Texas Tech in 1981, I landed a job in Houston working for a foreign-owned newspaper and magazine company. I had big hopes and dreams of becoming an international correspondent.
I started out as a working journalist. One day, my boss offered me a promotion and higher pay to do a different job on the marketing side of our company. After awhile, I found myself traveling around the country – not reporting the news but persuading vendors to sell our newspapers and magazines in their stores.
I can specifically remember the evening when I came home from work and sat alone in my apartment in Houston, asking myself: How did I get here? What happened to all my plans and aspirations? My personal radar had been screaming at me all that time, and I hadn't even realized it.
What if I had ignored this feeling of unease and not stopped for that crucial moment of self-reflection? I might have taken a path leading to a lifetime of disappointment and dashed dreams. Instead, I paid heed to my personal radar. I quit my job and got back to the career path I had originally chosen and trained for. I have learned ever since to search for that faint instinct, which is almost like a whisper in my head, that warns me when I'm veering off my path.
I look around at where some of my colleagues from Texas Tech have wound up, and I wonder whether they ignored their personal radar. I know for a fact that one of my closest family members ignored his radar at a crucial decision-making moment right after college, and he's regretted it ever since.
So how do you recognize your personal radar? It starts with a faint signal of unhappiness or discontent. It gets louder and more distinct when the job you're doing veers further and further away from your dreams and goals.
The problem is, sometimes you can be doing exactly what you trained for, and yet you're still unhappy. What does the radar say then? Sometimes, you just have to be honest with yourself and admit that a change of careers is necessary for your own happiness and sanity. There's no shame in being honest with yourself.
My radar tells me to find comfort in a little discomfort and queasiness when a work assignment is really difficult. Difficulty – even to the point of exasperation – is not to be confused with unhappiness. In fact, some of my happiest moments are after I've finished something I thought wasn't possible – something I was ready to give up on – and instead persevered to finish the job.
The fact is, it never gets easy – and you shouldn't want it to. The fun is in tackling challenges, then taking on new ones. Trust your radar to understand the difference.
Tod Robberson is an editorial writer for The Dallas Morning News. He won the 2010 Pulitzer Prize and the 2014 National Headliner Award for editorial writing. He is a frequent commentator on CNN, MSNBC, FoxNews, the BBC and National Public Radio. He has lived in nine countries and reported from more than 40 across Latin America, the Caribbean, Europe, the Middle East and western Asia.