19 Aug Off to See the Wizard
“This story is about you.”
When I was 11 years old there was a movie that screened across our old black and white TV that captivated me. (OK, for those of you that have difficulty imagining a B&W – get over it.)
The Wizard of Oz played only once a year back then. It was already a very old movie when I discovered it – and Star Wars was still a few years away so the fantasy/adventure genre had not yet exploded.
We found it where we could and Oz was about as close as I could get to a different world beyond the comic books. (Stan Lee pre-dates most of modern civilization by the way)
The protagonist in the film was Dorothy Gale – set adrift in a mysterious land and desperately trying to find her way home to Kansas after a tornado lifts she and her dog Toto away.
Her only direction from the astounded citizens she finds there – “Follow the yellow brick road.”
Dorothy’s adventures as she treads that path made for a great movie – from munchkins to talking scarecrows to flying monkeys and wicked witches.
Great theater for kids of all ages I guess.
And a pretty accurate analogy for a lot of professional careers if you stop to think about it.
Young Ms. Gale lands in a world she is not prepared for. People talk differently. They do not behave in ways that make sense. They have their own culture and their own way of doing things. Animals talk. What seems like magic drifts through the air. Everything seems very normal to everyone – except Dorothy, whose wish to someday visit “somewhere over the rainbow” now has met with the reality that the distant place she dreamed about has risks and uncertainty she hadn’t planned on.
And so when the Good Witch suggests only the great and powerful Wizard of Oz can help her and the munchkins shout their endorsement, Dorothy’s solo journey begins.
You start your career alone. All the wishes and dreams suddenly collide with the reality of a world most of us are not completely prepared for.
Lots of advice cascades around us. Lots of opinions on the path we should take.
But no one walks alongside when we begin that journey.
And many of us hope that our own version of Oz – The Great and Powerful will be able to help us. In our case Oz is supplanted with our vision of our company, our department, or our manager.
Translation – I’ll start walking and I just know good things will happen – there’s somebody out there that will make sure I’ll see my dreams come true.
Dorothy’s path starts with her encounter in the cornfield with the scarecrow – the talkative soon-to-be companion who offers a lot of opinions – but limited by having “no brain,” freely admits his counsel is not to be trusted.
From there to the “heartless” tin man and the cowardly lion, Dorothy begins to slowly assemble a group of traveling partners – each unsure of exactly where they’re going – frightened but willing to tread forward.
Metaphorically, we are now fully in line with a lot of career journeys right now. The characters that join Dorothy represent the emotions we are forced to face – lack of knowledge, lack of caring (heart), and yes – good old-fashioned fear.
And by the way, I just liked the movie when I was 11 – it was years later before I began to equate so much of its story with navigating a career.
That solo path is now crowded. Voices stream past you as you continue to walk your yellow brick road. But your companions really do mirror both the good and the bad – the scarecrow is the living embodiment of your lack of knowledge on what’s really important; the tin man – the lack of emotional connection needed to embrace others; and the good hearted lion – the fear of the uncertainty that lies ahead.
Get the picture?
When Elvira Gulch and her bicycle first appears on the flat plains of Kansas we glimpse the terror to come. I remember my reaction as a boy.
When she morphs later into The Wicked Witch of the West in the Land of Oz that dread magnifies.
No great story comes without conflict. No great career comes without difficulty. The Witch was that and more in Oz. Add the ominous flying monkeys and her Royal Guard and every adolescent in America was appropriately terrorized.
Dorothy’s trip is no longer a merry romp (literally) through the tulips. As she and her friends were learning – it was potentially deadly.
The witches and other predators haunt our own careers – don’t they?
The downsizing that swallowed your friend last year.
The restructure that waits around the corner – like the red sands of the witch’s hourglass – potentially counting the last hours of your job.
Remember the haunting thrum of the music when the witch neared? Ever heard that same tune as you made your way down your own yellow brick road?
I still remember my disappointment when I learned Oz, The Great and Powerful -wasn’t.
As Toto pulled aside the veil and that disembodied voice warned, “Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain…”
And four friends found themselves looking at a charlatan they had mistakenly placed their faith in – only to watch him crumble in front of them.
I started my career with an infinite faith in The Wizard. Only in my case the wizard was a combination of hard work, belief in the simplicity of proving myself in my job, a series of supervisors I relied on, and a company I was certain would be there forever.
Wrong, wrong, wrong, and wrong.
All were important – all would help propel me – but like the man behind the curtain they would not get me home.
Hard work alone guaranteed me nothing.
Proving myself in my job was always dependent on the “eye of the beholder” – subject to department interpretation and always tied to the larger corporate profitability. I saw “proven performers” often vanish before my very eyes.
The supervisors? Well, after a few years I realized they changed as often as my socks. Pledges made by one weren’t even acknowledged by the next. They were each on their own yellow brick road – hoping to survive.
And The Emerald City – that was my company and it housed the wizard and represented my ultimate source of faith. One day it stood strong and imposing – and then one day it was no longer there – replaced, it seemed, by buildings of a different hue and an unrecognized citizenry.
The Yellow Brick Road wasn’t golden after all.
The penultimate scene from Oz is the “great reveal” – when Dorothy and her friends learn the wizard really is no wizard at all.
But then a most amazing thing happens. The deposed wizard helps each of the travelers embrace the secret that lies within each of them.
To the scarecrow he hands a diploma and tells him he is actually a great thinker – but now he legitimizes that with a document that verifies it.
To the tin man he offers a jeweled “heart”, symbolizing the great caring that everyone else has always been able to see – except him.
To the lion – the commendation of bravery that acknowledges courage he never realized he had.
And finally, when the balloon equipped to carry her home slips away without her, the Good Witch (the one that first sends her out on her journey) returns to offer the last learning of The Wizard of Oz.
Dorothy has had the power within her all along. With three clicks of her heels – she finally returns to Kansas.
I’ve often wondered why Oz stayed with me. Sure, it’s a wonderful reminder of childhood and friends, I’m sure.
But its lessons are much more.
Our career path will never be an easy one. It will be fraught with adventure, dangers, and intrigue. Those we encounter who will help us on that journey will be a part of our story.
But there is no wizard that will grant us our wishes for success. There is no wand we can wave either.
The power lies within – we simply have to recognize it.
Those that learn that will have started to embrace the true North Star of the compass in The Compass Solution.
And they’re the ones that will ultimately make it home.