Growing up, my world was small. We didn’t have money for vacations, so we mostly played in the street right outside our house, pausing only for cars that came through. Some days, I would bike for hours, retracing the same routes in our all-Italian neighborhood. A major adventure for me was to head towards Pelham Bay Park, a little over a mile away.
Gradually, my world got a bit bigger. Going to high school in Manhattan, a subway ride away, brought me into contact with other kinds of people, other perspectives and ambitions. I was 22 when I took my first trip out of the country.
Then came work and business travel. It was thrilling in the beginning to go to London or Moscow or Tokyo. But over time, visiting the same offices year after year, I felt a certain sameness, confined by the structure of a big corporation. We all largely thought the same way. Different languages, perhaps, but talking about the same things.
Well into my forties, something changed.
I started to make my work visible – my learning, ideas, projects. Often I simply shared my appreciation for someone or something interesting. Like pebbles in a pond, those small contributions brought me into contact with new people in new places.
Over the years, the ripples kept spreading. In the past few weeks alone, I’ve been collaborating with extraordinarily diverse groups of people. There were students at the University of Eisenstadt in Austria. Employees of a consulting company in Colombo, Sri Lanka, and an energy company in Essen, Germany. Even a large meeting of the Australian Tax Office in Canberra, Adelaide, and other cities. Just yesterday, ripples from my visible work led to connections with people in Tasmania. Then someone in Germany shared a picture of my work being discussed in a public school there.
This isn’t about commercial success. (None of these involved money.) Rather, it demonstrates the power of purposeful discovery. “Purposeful” in that you make work visible related to your goals and interests. “Discovery” because you’re not sure what will happen, if anything, when you do that.
One thing for sure is that being more open about what you’re doing (and want to do) brings you into contact with people and opportunities you never could have imagined. Each connection can be a link to a new set of possibilities.
Sometimes I wonder what my life would have been like if I had learned to do this earlier. I can’t change that, but I can help others make their world bigger sooner.
What about you? Where would you like to go?