Hindsight reversed: making meaning out of a meaningless job.


October 2, 2020

For the last two weeks, one theme has kept coming up with my coaching clients and in my day-to-day conversations so I thought I’d share it. The theme is frustration about not being ‘there’ yet. My clients have a vision for what they’d love to be doing and it hurts them that they’re not there yet, and instead they’re in a meaningless job feeling so far away from their dream.

Sound familiar? If you’re the same there’s a powerful concept I’d love to share with you. I picked it up from Steve Jobs’ 2005 Commencement address (which is a great read if you’re interested).

I call it Reverse Hindsight, he calls it ‘joining the dots looking forward‘ and I will explain all.

Long story short, Steve Jobs dropped out of college but had to remain going there for the rest of the year.  He switched his courses from career-focused classes he thought he needed to take, to ones he was actually interested in.

He chose a calligraphy course, which at the time served no direct purpose to his career. Heck, he didn’t even know what he wanted to do, but being a graphic designer or a calligraphy teacher was definitely not part of the plan. He just liked it. So he took the class, thoroughly enjoyed it and didn’t think about it or use it until…..

Ten years later when he had worked out what he wanted to do – computer stuff – and he was doing it, the calligraphy course popped into his mind out of nowhere and influenced Mac creation heavily.

It made Mac stand out from its competition as it was the only computer with beautiful typography. Obviously at the time he had no idea that this class would come in handy. He said..

“You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future.”

I love that story because I see how it played out in my life and I can see it in play with my clients life. Whether its from a career they don’t like or bouncing back from a redundancy.

During my 20s when I was desperately seeking fulfilling work and not finding it despite doing some heavy searching (switching jobs and industries every year), I felt like a failure.

And on top of that lovely feeling, I was also heavily frustrated about why exactly I couldn’t find my thing. Well, I finally did figure it out and became a coach. When I was thinking of what niche to focus on, it came to me in a flash – the Quarter Life Crisis!

Aaaah, BIG lightbulb moment! That’s why I had to have those frustrating years of job seeking – so I could go through it myself, figure out a process of navigating the Quarter Life Crisis and help others through it!

As much as I love Steve’s story, I also disagree with it. I think you can join the dots looking forward.

In one of the many jobs I had I was given the task of creating pages on the company website. As a technophobe whose particularly terrified of anything that looks like code, I didn’t exactly jump at this ‘opportunity’ and approached the tasks with dread, fearing I’d accidentally take the company site down.

But I remembered Steve’s story and wondered if I could join the dots looking forward. Could I find meaning in these mundane tasks when all I wanted to do was hurry up and be a coach? (I was doing this job part-time alongside doing my part-time MSc in coaching and positive psychology).

Just asking that question made my mind look for meaning and connect it to my vision, and in no time at all, I joined the dots!

My end goal was to be a self-employed life and career coach which would mean that I would need a website myself and to know how to edit it as well as send out email marketing. All the things I was learning in that job! Sure, the content of the website and emails was dry and corporate, but I was essentially getting free training, saving me time and money!

So re-framed, I wasn’t just mindlessly completing tasks set by my manager for the benefit of company, I was doing something for the future me, and this was my time to get paid to practice. Score!

Hindsight is a gift, but reverse hindsight is a skill. Anyone can join the dots looking forward. Simply ask the question and let your brain do what it does best – search for connections and meaning!

I will say though, it’s much easier if you have a vision or a goal for your ideal working life. If you don’t and you need help, get in my calendar! I believe everyone has a vision that marries their gifts and experience perfectly, and I have a knack and passion for helping you realise it.

If you are looking for clarity and guidance to move forward then why not download my Guide: Find Your Way.

Now over to you, what current tasks or life situation is getting you down and how might they serve the future you? Re-frame them and let me know how you get on.



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