Are You on the Established Path for the Wrong Reasons?
A number of my friends forcefully recommended that I immediately add Michelle Obama’s Becoming to my reading list for my personal development as a husband that has always been highly ambitious and understanding how that affects my wife and family, plus learning to see the world through both female eyes and that of an African-American (as a Jamaican immigrant to the USA from an Upper Middle-Class family, I do not share a lot of the same lived experiences).
A number of stories in it have been hitting me but this paragraph is one that resonated strongly:
This may be the fundamental problem with caring a lot about what others think; it can put you on the established path, the “My, isn’t that impressive” path and keep you there for a long time. Maybe it stops you from swerving, from ever even considering a swerve, because what you risk losing in terms of other peoples’ high regard can feel too costly.
My parents raised me to not care too much about what others think about my career pursuits and instead be true to myself and my life goals. That is different from caring about feelings and reputation but many people seem to seek out the approval of others to build or maintain self-esteem. Now I understand why I have zero issues zigging and zagging while so many are afraid to attempt entrepreneurship and think that I am crazy to take the risks that I do.
A “swerve” was something that I was taught to embrace because I could always fall back on my degree. Michelle was laser-focused on that established path while Barack Obama had been swerving his whole life, and not by choice. Swervers try to accomplish things for their own satisfaction, not the satisfaction of “high regard”. We have very specific goals in mind for our lives and we are open to talking multiple paths to get to that destination. It is why we swervers often feel like we have more creativity and imagination than the person who sticks to the established path and why we clash in meetings.
My good friend Mike Michalowicz, author of a number of great business books, calls it Tacking which is what sailboats do to get to their destination because they cannot simply sail in a straight line. Most of us will never sail so I use a more common analogy — Dribbling a ball to a basketball hoop or a football (soccer) goal — you rarely can do it in a straight line.
You can stop reading here and think about your reasons for choosing the path that you are on, however, feel free to read more about my swerving below if you enjoy stories.
I was raised between Kingston, Jamaica and Miami, Florida, graduating from a very prominent high school in Jamaica, Campion College, a year early at 15 years old. Our exams in the Caribbean at 5th Form (11th grade in the USA) are called CXCs and we usually sit 8 exams: Mathematics, English Literature and English Language plus 5 subjects you focused on for the last 2 years after being allowed to take them.
I studied Biology, Chemistry, Physics, Spanish and Geography, scoring the highest possible score, a 1, in each of them as well as Mathematics (I sat the Computer Science exam the year before as well). It was clear that I was on the established path for Medical School.
I chose to go straight to community college in the USA, doing very well and securing a scholarship to complete my final 2 years at the University of Miami, a well-known private university in South Florida, graduating at 19 years old with my Bachelor’s degree.
I was Pre-med, no surprise to anyone that knew my parents, a doctor and lecturer to 4th and 5th year medical school students at the University of the West Indies, and a nurse who mainly worked in the USA.
The established path for me was the same as most of my high school classmates who also did the sciences, become a doctor.
I focused on genetics and then took a year off after graduation to play football (soccer) in Jamaica’s Under-20 competition and in the Major League (3rd Division) for Real Mona F.C. while also eventually working for a large financial institution. My father recommended that I consider an MBA since many doctors were doing them at the time and it was shorter than medical school.
The University of Miami School of Business offered me a half-tuition scholarship for my first year of the 2-year programme and so I accepted, with my younger brother joining me.
We have never been on the established path since then; Launching our tech startup during our first semester in 2001, working in finance and digital marketing, even working in politics by volunteering and fundraising for President Obama’s campaigns; a paid staffer on Hillary Clinton’s campaign helping with Caribbean-American Outreach; and serving on the Jamaica Diaspora Advisory Board as the first Future Leaders Representative for the USA and advising Jamaica’s Prime Minister and Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade for 3 years.
My children will be raised to be swervers because I do not want them to pick a path simply because they care too much about the “high regard” of others. Live your life.
David P.A. Mullings is the Founder and C.E.O. of Blue Mahoe Partners, a private investment firm based in Florida.