Our lives are characterised by many crossroad moments when we are called to make a decision: yes or no; commit or walk away. These happen in our personal and professional lives alike. Crossroad moments are important, demanding that we make a choice, leading us to what’s next in our lives.
When have you taken a risk, changed direction, or taken a leap of faith in your professional or personal life? When has your curiosity been greater than your fear and propelled you forward? What happened? Most of our real growth takes place on the fringes of discomfort, when we are courageous enough to step into new spaces, do new things, or do things differently.
Crossroad moments are often uncomfortable, and we have to do some real soul searching to get to the point of decision. I shared a crossroad moment from my career with an online audience recently and I want to share it with you too, because I think we all go through so many transitions in our lives.
These transitions are about change. They’re about stepping out of the known into the discomfort of the unknown. We often shy away from change because of the discomfort. When we start new things or take on new positions, we will go through a period of feeling incompetent or unconfident because it’s not a place where we’ve been before.
MY CROSSROAD MOMENT: TRANSITIONING TO A NEW CAREER
This particular transition in my life was from one career to another. From public relations into direct selling. A teacher-friend of mine had been involved with a company that manufactured and sold educational games and toys. This is how the conversation went: “Nikki, you are a great mom, but you know nothing about the educational development of young children. Come with me!” My first baby was about six months old at the time. What a great recruiting line! And with that, she took me off to my first meeting where we were talking about teaching math skills to children through play, by using toys. This completely blew my mind. It made so much sense!
Initially, I got involved just because I was a mom. I sold hardly any toys to anyone but myself, mostly with the aim to help me be a better mother. And then the Area Director of this particular team (which was one of the top two teams in the country in a company that had 8 000 salespeople on the ground) decided to emigrate.
I got this call out of the blue saying, “I’m leaving the country and I want you to take over my team.” To which I responded, “Are you mad? Why me? I’m running a successful public relations business. I don’t need the money. I’m your worst sales consultant selling just R200s worth of toys to myself each month. Why would you ask me?” Her response was: “But you are the leader and I think that you would take this team where it needs to go.”
This was a team that was filled with experts at early-childhood development: educational psychologists, occupational therapists, neuro-developmental physiotherapists, remedial teachers and teachers, and here was me who knew the least about a child’s learning journey.
SAYING YES TO NEW CHALLENGES MEANS ASKING QUESTIONS
However, the opportunity did trigger a thought process for me and I started asking myself many questions about what I wanted out of life and my career, knowing that I also wanted a second child. As successful as I was at that point in public relations, I was also bored. I had hit a learning plateau, and I didn’t want to employ staff to grow beyond being a solopreneur at that time. However, I also wanted to be part of a team. Being a solopreneur can be a lonely space so team work was an attractive proposition.
The thought of branching off in a new direction was exciting and terrifying, but my curiosity got the better off me. I was ready to take a calculated risk and was in the mood for growth. Accepting the challenge of leading a crack sales team fed my competitive nature, and doing legacy work that could impact on generations to come spoke to my soul. There was real appeal.
Sometimes we say no to new opportunities because we’re actually scared of what might happen. And sometimes we need to say yes to something new to help us to become bigger than we were before; to stop playing small. I was in a real comfort zone. It was time for a shift.
I took on this leadership position which meant going on a leadership training workshop with the CEO, Eleanor Scott, who was a phenomenal leader and a great trainer. I sat through her full day training and my brain just exploded with the possibilities of where I could take this team, what I could learn, and what we could do in this country. There were also many business systems and processes I had to learn and master, quickly.
At the end of the training I went downstairs into the underground parking and I got into my car. I just sat there, frozen. This was a very real, visceral Crossroad Moment. Metaphorically, I didn’t know whether to look left, right, forwards or backwards. There was so much that I wanted to do with this team. I was so inspired and overwhelmed that I sat in my car and cried.
Not being someone who cried at the drop of a hat, I knew that I had to really listen to what was going on onside me. I realised that there were two options facing me: if I drove out of the garage at that moment, I was never ever going to do the job. I would walk away because it was too much. It felt too big for me. It was not in my field of expertise.
BE CURIOUS AND MAKE YOURSELF SUPPORTABLE
The other option was to make myself vulnerable and supportable, go back upstairs and ask for help. That meant knocking on the CEO’s door to see if she had time to help me isolate my first three steps out of the hundred I had in my head.
I sat vascillating in my car for about 15 minutes. I felt completely torn because I didn’t need the money. I could carry on with my public relations consultancy, earning nicely and doing easy stuff; or I could go upstairs.
Eventually, my curiosity overcame my fear and I went upstairs. The CEO was available. I sat down in her office, burst into tears, and asked for some guidance. The rest, as they say, is history. I loved my three years of leading the team to succcess and the ‘Law of Unintended Consequences’ came into play.
When we choose a new path, we cannot predict what new opportunities and possibilities may be revealed. I don’t believe that I would be doing the work I’m doing today had I not taken that risk on myself and switched careers; had I not walked through that door of opportunity at that time in my life.
DON’T BE SCARED OF CROSSROAD MOMENTS
No experience is ever wasted, lost or forgotten. We are always laying track for what comes next. Don’t be scared of crossroad moments. They get you where you need to go next.
Yes, we have to ask ourselves some questions and really dig deep inside ourselves. For me, self-growth is always a key. It’s not always about the money. In fact, research shows that money is not the primary reason people shift jobs.
So, what is your driver if you are currently facing a crossroad moment in your life? Is it curiosity? Or is it fear? That’s a really great question to ask yourself.
My wish for you is this: May your curiosity always be stronger than your fear.
You can read more about how to make powerful choices, adapt to change and develop your resilience in the face of uncertainty in my book, Future-proof Yoruself (Penguin