A friend and I were discussing his move from 30 years of successful corporate life to the exciting world of self-employment. Being that I “haven’t had a job” in almost 30 years, he’d come to me to see if I could accelerate his learning curve. We also wanted to see if there were opportunities we might take advantage of together. We had a full day of discussion, clarifying and brainstorming, but it left me wondering why several times during the day, I saw patterns and truths that he had yet to recognize.

It came to me when I remembered hearing the learning process compared to putting together a 1,500-piece puzzle. In the beginning, it takes days and days, and you don’t see anything. Then, finally, the puzzle’s picture comes together, and it gets easier and easier to see the further you go. In this case, although we were now working on the same puzzle, I’d simply been at it a lot longer and had put more of the pieces of that particular puzzle in place.

There’s another lesson I learned in the process as well. While my friend and I were both in the business of developing human performance, this type of puzzle is where it gets personal. We are all on our own personal path. Alone. One size does not fit all. The path is ours. Sometimes, we’re on it blind; sometimes, we’re moving with light, purpose and intention. My path is different from yours and different from my friend’s – and neither he nor I are better or worse for that variance.

It’s your path. What I fill my life with, including my profession, is my path, not yours, not my brother’s, my friend’s, my wife’s or my kids’ paths. It is distinctly mine. In fact, it makes me think of Gandhi’s words: “Your beliefs become your thoughts; your thoughts become your words; your words become your actions; your actions become your habits; your habits become your values; your values become your destiny.”

In my mind, this destiny is what results in my path in life. How much of our lives do we spend comparing other’s paths, judging other’s paths, tending other’s paths and even making over our paths in the likeness of another’s path? Of late, I often hear a cute phrase in reference to minding one’s own business: “not my monkey, not my zoo.” I think I’ll restate that to be “not my path” and dedicate myself … to my path. That doesn’t mean I will be blind or unfeeling to the paths of others. Just the opposite, in fact, especially if I can reach back to someone new to a similar path and reveal the puzzle to them.

And as a practicing leader and coach, I can do more. Let’s do something different – we can’t help but get better:

  1. Study the puzzle. Make a list of three to seven key descriptors that adequately describe your professional path to date.
  2. Reveal the puzzle. Seek out someone you know on a professional journey that is similar to yours, but who is much newer to it. Ask them if you might teach them what you now “see” of the puzzle.

My bet is they will gladly accept your help. I also believe you can save them time, money and sweat equity in the bargain.