I have always been curious. Some would say nosey. This affliction began at a very young age, around 3, when my family lived in a Houston enclave.
My curiosity manifested itself in a desire to be out and about, to meet people and to find out stuff. This desire led me to roam my street as well as nearby neighborhood streets. To say my exploits were distressing for my mother would be an understatement. She devised all manner of constraints to keep me close to home short of a stake and chain in the backyard. Although this was an era when crime in West University Place was not high on anyone’s list and teenagers still got up at 4:30 AM to deliver newspapers on their bicycles, my mother was justifiably adamant, a 4-year-old should not be roaming free.
Finally, she purchased a hook and eye latch for the screen door on the back porch. There I was allowed to play with my toys with minimal supervision. With this solution, she felt secure that I would not disappear, yet again. However, if you know anything about a hook and eye latch, it is really meant to keep people out, not someone locked inside, even a small boy who could not reach the latch. There were days upon days when I was content to spend hours on that wonderful porch with my toys and books. But one day, when they no longer held my attention, I discovered that a broom was the key to my liberty. I found that pushing up the hook from the bottom would pop the hook from the eye and I would be a free man.
It’s funny how you remember certain events from your early life when others, with more significance, are long lost. Some kids would never have thought of a porch escape, probably fearing the consequences. For me, the draw of finding out what was going on in the neighborhood was far stronger. Perhaps that is what led me to a career in the news business, working in Tyler, Lubbock and later in Houston, which in turn led me to give up the news game — something I really enjoyed — to try something new, working at Hermann Hospital where I became the first director of Life Flight and later, the national marketing/business development manager for the helicopter company. Looking back over my career I realize that I have always been drawn to try new things, including the idea of founding a search firm, even when I had little prior experience in the field. In most cases I have been successful but when I was not, I never thought of those experiences as failures, even when they were extremely painful.
For me, that screened porch in Houston symbolizes stability and safety. Some highly successful executives have made their mark in business because they understood their need for the relative security of salary, benefits, capital and the structure of working for a company, and there are others who toil away inside the company structure who are never fully satisfied. There are those who want to try new things but are understandably afraid to pull the trigger because of financial and personal responsibilities. Roaming the streets is not for everyone.
For early careerists, my message is to be open to smart new ideas, even if those opportunities involve career risks. If you can survive a flop in your 50s, and many have, certainly a setback earlier in a career will not be the end of the world. For people who are mid-careerists, even those moving into the final quarter of their work life and who are unfilled and unhappy, be smart, but know there are some exciting things to learn and people to meet on the next street over.
It is easier to pop open that screen door latch than you imagine.
© 2021 John Gregory Self