It’s not very often that you get from here to there as planned. All roads to success are crooked. And crooked isn’t a bad thing. Crooked can mean that an unforeseen detour presents itself and offers a new way to broaden your views while on the journey. It can also mean that life presents you with a temporary roadblock.
No matter the type of disruption, a focus on your why and a commitment to your values can help you devise new ways to arrive at your destination.
Early in my career, I recall wanting a seat at a leadership table that I felt was essential to my journey and not getting the invitation I wanted so badly. A mentor reminded me that rather than wait for an invitation through the front door, look to see if there’s a side door to that table or if there’s a different table. That memory is a good reminder that when I think I see a clear path to something, it’s important to be flexible about how I get there.
If you’re coming up empty when you look to your own life for inspiration, consider the unpredictable paths to success experienced by well-known leaders. For instance, Abraham Lincoln’s detours to the presidency were as varied as they were numerous. He began as a war captain in the military and returned home as a private, which was the lowest rank.
Lincoln pressed on and redirected his energy to politics. There he campaigned unsuccessfully several times before he was finally elected president in 1861. Lincoln accomplished far more for our country than he might have had he worked his way through the ranks in the military. Our country is fortunate that his path to influence was a crooked one.
In another corner of history, a more recent example was also a politician who ran for president. Shirley Chisholm became the first Black woman elected to the U.S. Congress from 1969 to 1983. In 1972, Chisolm was the first Black candidate to run for a major party’s nomination for president of the U.S.
Chisolm’s firsts were met with challenges. She received multiple death threats, including assassination attempts, and was granted Secret Service protection to ensure her safety. Chisolm also had to win a federal court order to be included in televised debates.
She surprised many people in the political sphere with a strong delegate following and voter support. Though Chisolm didn’t win, running for office gave her national recognition and support, which lent to her political success with countless substantive issues in Congress for her district.
There’s so much we can learn from others who’ve gone before us and soldiered on when their path took a detour. Having encountered my own crooked path to success, I was heartened by Chisolm’s sentiment when confronted by an obstacle similar to mine: “If they don’t give you a seat at the table, bring a folding chair.”
What is your folding chair on the path to success? How will you devise new paths to achieve your goals?
Stand by your why,