How to Select the Right Life Path Jumps

By July 12, 2012Leadership

There are three types of people in this world.

  1. Those who do no harm as we navigate our life path.
  2. Those who pull us up to a new purpose-filled life path.
  3. Those who pull us down to a dreary, frustrated life path.

Selecting the Right Life Path Jump

Whether we recognize it at the time, there are people we encounter who can help or hurt us. The offers may sound equally enticing, yet the motives or the real direction may be questionable. When things sound too good, they usually are. When the scheme seems too fast, it may be just that – a fast one, no redeeming value.

There are potholes we come to as we move along our “normal” life path. Although we can more easily recover from these, when a person comes along and offers a different path for us to take, this is where real change can happen.

I’ll take the high road.

On the upper paths, we can call them mentors, game-changers, coaches, or bosses. They come in different forms, but they all extend a hand to lift us up to a new view, a new career path, or a renewed direction.

New paths can come in the form of events, too. Events can include a new college degree, a mission trip, or some other life-enhancing experience, opening a window to new life opportunities.

Even on the renewed life paths, we carry a responsibility to continue to move upward and forward with the opportunity given. It is our responsibility to continue to improve our interactions, our work, ourselves, and our community.

The low road looks fun.

On the lower paths, we can call them disingenuous, slick, or evil. Their real intent is to see us remain stagnant in our personal growth or, worse, lead us into a decline. Their pitch may sound wonderful, and the immediate sensation may feel great. But, the outcome is miserable.

In these lower paths, it can be the substances offered by others as well, which just quickens a downward spiral in life. How many life recovery stories do we need to read or experience until we realize that alcohol and drugs just don’t make our lives better?

Once on the lower paths, getting back to a normal or an upper life path escalates in challenge and requires an enduring mind, body, and spirit. It can be done. We just have work a lot harder to do.

As we stroll along our life paths, these are the encounters we have, and we need to make a choice. We can choose to stay on our normal path or make the shift to a new path, high or low.

My story.

Looking back over the years, my story may be lackluster, yet there were at least three life path jumps I have experienced. The first was an opportunity to work for Senator Jim Abdnor. I have written before how his extended hand enabled a completely new direction in my life. It transpired over seven-plus years, ending with an experience of a lifetime working in The White House.

Another is returning to school to get my MBA from The University of Texas at Austin. After I realized that politics was not part of my life plan, I needed to get on a different path and going back to school was the ticket. A former professor from Augustana College provided me a boost on to this path. Almost twenty years later, my business career is still unfolding, but it has been chockfull of lessons and experiences in leadership, entrepreneurship, and friendship.

I’ll keep the third safe within my thoughts for now. I think you get the idea, though, on how life path jumps work.

Why I said my story may be lackluster is it seems normal at times. I haven’t written the book of all time, taken two years to do mission work, or inspired a Seth Godin-style tribe. However, when I look back warmly on my farm days to where I am now, I cannot help but feel fortunate for the life jumps I have encountered and taken.

What to do?

My advice may be simple.

  • Position yourself for the right life jumps. Be active in your community. Make the connections. Use the Soul Spark Checkpoint to see where you stand today.
  • Discern the opportunity and the people extending their hand. Ensure the intentions are good, and they are truly trying to pull you up rather than weigh you down.
  • Don’t jump just to jump. Think about the life choices being made and the path’s possibilities. Ensure it is going in a meaningful, purpose-filled direction.
  • Make sure of the impact of your life jump, not only on yourself but your family as well. Life path jumps create ripples, so it is important to ensure the ripples resonate with all and don’t create un-needed rough and choppy waters.

Life path jumps are vital to how our purpose unfolds. It is more than being just about us, however. Another viewpoint is how have we delivered life path jumps to others? This may be a harder challenge, yet it is important for us to play this role when we can.

What life path jumps have you experienced? What is the challenge in discerning the best life path choice?

Jon Mertz
Jon Mertz is one of the Top 100 Thought Leaders in Trustworthy Business and highlighted as one of the Leaders to Watch in 2015 by the American Management Association. He also is the author of Activate Leadership: Aspen Truths to Empower Millennial Leaders. Jon serves as vice president of marketing at Corepoint Health. Outside of his professional life, Jon brings together a community to inspire Millennial leaders and close the gap between two generations of leaders.
Jon Mertz
Jon Mertz

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Join the discussion 15 Comments

  • Manuj says:

    Great post !! I really like the way you explained it. I had a question as to how were you able to distinguish between mentors who gave you a helping hand and, disingenuous persons whom you must have met ?

    Awaiting your reply 🙂

    • Jon M says:

      Thanks, Manuj, for your comment and question. To distinguish someone is willing to help out versus pull you down may not always be obvious. It will be important to discern their intentions and ensure they align with your principles and goals. As with any relationship, trust develops over time; it gives us time to evaluate their choices and actions to ensure consistency of principle.

      I hope that helps. Appreciate it! Jon

  • Nice post! I really like the way you focus on the *people* who impact our lives, rather than the titles, credentials, paychecks, institutions, etc. that often consume our days.

    A few extra thoughts:

    + Good people come in clusters. Sometimes we find them in our literal “neighborhood” — two doors down the street, or at the corner cafe. Other times, we frequent the same metaphorical neighborhood: what you rightly describe as a college campus, a mission trip, etc. To get big decisions right, it helps to spend more time in good neighborhoods and less time in bad ones. (And neighborhood quality, of course, isn’t always measured by the size of people’s driveways or the number of cars parked in the garage.)
    + Some of the people who end up helping us the most are what I’d call “running partners.” We’re both doing the best we can to move forward, and we take turns helping each other. Or we just provide understanding and empathy when it gets hard. Maybe we’re even rivals, but rivals in a good way. We push each other to do the best we can, and to keep growing.
    + Having kids — and thinking about their well-being — is a great way to keep one’s judgment sharp. Any time a decision looks hazy, thinking about how to answer the question: “Dad, why did you do that?” usually makes it very easy to know which way to go.

    • Jon M says:

      Really appreciate your comments and added insights, George! Thank you.

      I especially like the neighborhood or cluster concept. Spending time in the good or right neighborhoods will make us better people and leaders. It is those neighborhoods that are more concerned with lending a hand where the real value happens…. it is about giving.

      Love all three points you added. Grateful for your voice in the conversation.


  • Kent Julian says:

    Love this, Jon! Your graphic illustration already says it all! And to live and lead with purpose is definitely the path to a more meaningful life.

  • Lance says:

    Thanks for sharing another part of your journey – and in that – reminding me of that birds eye view of my life.

    In the day to day – it can definitely feel like there is nothing inherently special happening. Yet, when I look from a higher level, I’m deeply grateful for the life I have and for who/what I have in that life.

    • Jon M says:

      Thanks, Lance. Sometimes it does seem that we are not making progress yet, when we look back, we see how things have really changed. There are always those events or people who have helped us raise our game or change our path. Appreciate what you do. Thanks! Jon

  • Marquita Herald says:

    Great advice and graphic Jon! I’ve worked with a lot of first time entrepreneurs (mostly women) and lack of self-confidence is a real challenge for most of them – especially if they don’t have a support system to encourage them along the way.

    • Jon M says:

      Marquita, In those situations, getting that extended hand of support and coaching becomes even more important. Those moments create the life-changing path direction to enable these entrepreneurs to achieve their great work in an effective way. I am glad that you are working with such a great group! Thanks for your comments! Jon

  • A wonderful post! It’s so important to keep moving forward. Sometimes baby steps. Sometimes giant leaps. I’m mid-leap myself.. and it feels amazing!
    Every struggle every fall has been a blessing and a lesson. All of it brought me to where I am today. Where I am today is perfect for this moment. And things are only going to get better.. because I’m happy. No matter what comes. : )

    • Jon M says:

      Shelley, Yes, we all have those “bumps” along the way, and sometimes we take small steps forward and, other times, larger ones. It is so important to keep moving forward purposefully. You definitely are on that path! Grateful for your comments and insights. You are inspiring! Jon

  • Deone Higgs says:

    I loved this post, Jon!

    For me, the life jumps have been many, and each one, I believe, has plotted my path to where I am now. They loaned me experiences that I had no idea how they would benefit me in what I’m doing right now. Each person I have encountered in this life has provided me with a rich gift of their presence – yep, even the ones that frustrated my path. They have given me the greatest lessons actually. I am a better man today, because I was able to see the benefits of each relationship. And I believe, I will be an even better man in the future, because of the powerful connections I’ve made now.

    I couldn’t foresee who I would have become, when I was a young boy playing in my grandmother’s yard or picking cucumbers in her garden for an entire summer – however, I would change one thing about my journey. I’m proud of who I’ve become, and who I’m becoming.

    How did I select the right life path? To be honest with you, I didn’t – I had crossroads along the way, and luckily, I just kept choosing the right ones. Again, even the worst ones, have turned out to be the best ones for me.

    • Jon M says:

      Deone, Thank you for your comments and voice to this conversation. I like the thought of crossroads, as we all have those moments of choice. You have so much to be proud of with all the good work you are doing. Appreciate your insights! Jon

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