Tollbooth or Roadblock?


You may not get to choose where you go, but you always get to choose how you’ll travel.

On Wednesday, I blogged about the latest census data, suggesting the dark prospects for American young people entering their careers. The New York Times calls them “Generation Limbo.” After seeing the data, Harvard economist Richard Freeman took it further, saying, “These people will be scarred, and they will be called the ‘Lost Generation’ in that their careers would not be the same way if we had avoided this economic disaster.”

Today, I want to offer a conversation topic you can have with your young people, as they face a bleak economic picture as they launch their careers.

Tollbooth or Roadblock?

As we move through various stages of our lives, we reach junctions—points of transition—where we must shift gears and slow down. Suddenly, we realize we have to pay a price to proceed. It’s like a tollbooth. The price might be a tough decision we must make or a situation we must leave behind; it may mean a class we must take or a job we must quit. For many, it could be a career that won’t seem to launch as we had planned. It can be anything that is costly to us. It’s at these moments that we discover that the junction will either become a tollbooth or a roadblock. We either choose to pay the price…or we can't find it in ourselves to do what is hard. And we get stuck.

In 1962, Victor & Mildred Goertzel published a book called The Cradles of Eminence, a study of hundreds of high-performing people. The authors spent years attempting to understand what led to their greatness, and they searched for similarities in the stories of these outstanding and famous people. Can you guess what they found? The most stunning fact was that 392 of the 415 people had endured great obstacles on the way to becoming who they were. That’s 95% of the incredible performers! They had paid the toll by perseverance, determination and overcoming obstacles—that is, by choosing to pay the toll.

At this point, ask your young person a question: In what area are you stuck right now? Why have you stalled? I’ve found I often stop moving forward when I feel like a victim of my circumstances. In other words, if I feel I have no choice in a matter, that I’m forced to do what someone else wants me to do, I unintentionally stop progressing. The fact is, it may be true that there’s only one option ahead. At times the tollbooths we face are on a “One Way” road. We have no choice but to pay the price. But that doesn’t mean we have no choice in the matter. Never assume that. This is when we get to decide just how we will travel. In short, you may not get to choose where you go, but you always can choose how you’ll travel. We can decide to engage our challenges with passion, to commit to a goal, to compete with our past and improve, to overcome setbacks we face, and to enjoy the journey along the way.

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