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The Path Less Traveled Leads to the Top

This post originally appeared in our Startup Growth Newsletter.

Everyone loves an up-and-to-the-right graph. It tells a simple story: Things are going well. But as we all know, life never moves so linearly.

I recently had the opportunity to meet with a young man who was at an inflection point in his life. He had begun his career in marketing but then took a detour to pursue a passion in a completely different field. Now, several years later, he has realized that his passion doesn’t have the career potential he had previously envisioned. He is now getting back into marketing but feels like he has wasted five years and is not as far along in his career trajectory as he should be.

During our conversation, I couldn’t help but feel like I was looking in the mirror.

During my early 20s, I spent nearly three eventful and amazing years in China and Italy, working a variety of jobs. But when I returned in 2009 I faced an economic downturn and the fact that no one really cared about those experiences. A good friend of mine even asked if I learned Japanese. (No, as I was not in Japan.)

But here’s the thing about life: Not every experience fits nicely on a resume. The lessons I learned living abroad, the perspective I gained and the challenges I overcame were invaluable. There is no doubt that it helped me find my path. And though those years might have meant that I started on that path a little further back than I would have liked, they also helped me accelerate ahead.

I heard a great line on sports radio the other day that went, “It’s not how fast you get there that matters. It matters how long you stay.”

So I told this young man not to look at his life detour as a negative but as something to give him confidence. He had taken a different route and learned a lot along the way. Not all who wander are lost. They are often discovering things about themselves that will accelerate their career trajectory.

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