Mary Oliver and Career Change

There comes a time in any career change where analysis stops working.  All the risks have been managed.  Contingency plans have been made.  Worst case finances have been modelled in Excel. A 62-slide Powerpoint deck is available on request.

It’s at this point where art takes over.  There were several notable examples of this in my career change: Derek Walcott, Al Pacino, Ernest Hemingway, reading the obituaries or even the Honda ad, which taught me that even bald men can sometimes be courageous.


At some point we need human inspiration not just analysis to get moving, and for me one inspirational name stands out; Mary Oliver, who died yesterday.

Firstly Mary Oliver wrote poetry which I could actually understand, which is a good start, and she helped me articulate so many things when changing career that I found hard to express alone.

One of the best known is Wild Geese, which consoled me when I felt that in order for my new career to be meaningful I would have to sacrifice myself, with no room for comfort or enjoyment of my own:

You do not have to be good… You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves.

Another is The Journey, which talks about setting out on a challenging new journey:

the wind pried with its stiff fingers…the melancholy was terrible. It was a wild night, and the road full of fallen branches and stones.

But as the journey processes the weather clears and eventually

a new voice which you slowly recognized as your own, kept you company as you strode deeper and deeper into the world

determined to do

the only thing you could do-

determined to save the only life you could save.

Using nature to find our own voice is a constant theme, as is a plea to experience life rather than to analyse it or think about it.  At her best there was an urgency to her writing, which fired me up and challenged me:

Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?

Tell me, what is it you plan to do

with your one wild and precious life?

Indeed, the greatest poem of all related to career change was in essence a beautiful call to action (as well as perfectly encapsulating the need to marry mindfulness to values).

This poem fired me up and consoled me like no other.  I have used it in countless coaching sessions and career change workshops.

Thank you Mary, you will be missed, but you will also be remembered by the countless actions and lives and careers which are that bit braver and that bit more meaningful thanks to you.

What I Have Learned So Far

Meditation is old and honorable, so why should I
not sit, every morning of my life, on the hillside,
looking into the shining world?

Because, properly
attended to, delight, as well as havoc, is suggestion.
Can one be passionate about the just, the
ideal, the sublime, the holy, and yet commit
to no labor in its cause? I don’t think so.

All summations have a beginning, all effect has a
story, all kindness begins with the sown seed.
The gospel of light is the crossroads of indolence, or action.

Be ignited, or be gone

Career Change

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