Friday, May 1, 2009

And You May Ask Yourself, How Did I Get Here?

OK, as I mentioned yesterday, Malcom Gladwell's book Outliers got me thinking about how I ended up in my current position. I'm not quite sure how to tell the story, but I'll try:

Somewhere around 2002, the senior enlisted advisor ("the Chief") of the agency I was working at sent around one of those "leadership message of the day" kind of emails. I don't always open those, 'cause they're usually boring cliches, but that day I did open it. I don't recall what this particular one said, but apparently I liked the story enough that I sent an email to the Chief, inviting him to come hear a little presentation I was going to give... not expecting that he'd actually show up, but I figured it was worth a shot. 

The presentation was titled The Radical Elements of Radical Success (it eventually became the book of the same name). Much to my surprise, the Chief showed up. He sat in the front row. He smiled and nodded and took notes. He really enjoyed it - and to make a long story short, he arranged for me to give the briefing to the head of the agency and his senior staff.

Here's where Gladwell would point out that this opportunity was not simply because I gave a good briefing. It was because the right guy (the Chief) showed up... and he only showed up because I'd read and responded to the email he'd sent. Fate? Serendipity? Whatever you call it, it changed the course of my career.

The next thing I knew I was at a proverbial undisclosed location in the DC area, late in the evening, giving my presentation to a room of VERY senior people. One of them asked if I wanted to move from my present division over to the division he was in charge of. I said sure. So, he got the guy in charge of my original division, and the three of us went to see the Director of the agency. The three big bosses all smiled and nodded and said "Yes, Dan should go work in this new division." And so I did.

That's where I met Quaid, my writing buddy and brother-in-arms. Together, we wrote a series of articles that caught the attention of the gentleman I'm working for now. I'd published a few articles before that time, but writing with Quaid took things to a whole new level. Together, we wrote things I never would have written on my own. And I would not have met Quaid if I hadn't moved to the new division. That wouldn't have happened if not for the email the Chief sent. It all goes back to that fateful email.

Yes, this is the story of a guy who likes to express himself, in crazy little articles and briefings. But the thing I learned from Gladwell is that there are plenty of talented thinkers and writers out there, and where we end up in our lives and careers is not solely determined by talent. There are random events, beyond our control, that happen at pivotal moments and have an impact far beyond anything we could predict at the time. I'm sure the Chief has no idea how his email changed things for me.

And we could go back even further, to my former classmate who sent me an email about that job opening, which I got and he didn't. That job led to the job at the Agency, which is where I got the note from the Chief...

How about you? How did you get where you are?

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