Imagine a large barrel, or a cylinder; it’s 150 feet high, with a diameter of 75 feet. It’s made of steel. There is nothing in the barrel but you. The only thing you can see is the sky, with no perspective of what is around you. There is no noise, no background activity. You’re not sure how you got there, or what your purpose is inside it.
We’ve liberally borrowed this image from “Five Characters In Search Of An Exit”, a 1961 episode of The Twilight Zone tv show, but it’s a relevant scene I’d like you to set for yourself.
You look up and yell out for help but no one hears you. There’s a huge echo, a hollowness that reverberates throughout. A small head doesn’t peer over the lip of the cylinder to acknowledge and wave at you. A giant head that’s as big as the barrel, covering the sky, doesn’t show up either.
No one can hear your cry for help, for guidance on where you are or to tell you how you got there in the first place. Worse yet, it seems there’s no way out.
Why doesn’t anyone come help me? you think.
Think about what life situations can put you in this barrel:
1) The alcoholic or drug addict who has burned all of their bridges
2) The stuck-in-neutral person who cannot imagine, let alone do anything about reinvention
3) A brilliant employee who’s ignored by their bosses (and even peers)
4) An abused spouse who’s trapped in a horrible relationship
and so many more.
The person in the barrel is not necessarily there because they’re being punished for something. They are not always there because of something they did.
All of us have been in this barrel at one time or another. Now – how to get out?
Let’s change our example a bit. Let’s say you are still in the barrel, but you have one book – the best book you are ever going to read. What’s the title of your book?
How about How to Escape From a Metal Cylinder?
You want the book that will get you out of there.
We all know people at work, in our neighborhoods, and in our families who complain about their circumstances, but never seem to do much about it. Others fascinate us with their repeated failures – these people who try and try but keep slipping back down the walls of their barrels. We wonder how they can keep going, faced with these repeated setbacks.
I once interviewed a famous venture capital guy about creating teams. I gave him two choices – a hotshot who’s coming off her fourth successful startup, or a person who has been a part of four massive failures.
He said, “If their education and qualifications are equal, I’m picking the one who knows what it’s like to feel failure.”
Getting out of the barrel requires looking for the specific resource that solves the problem. Is it a blog, a book, a friend?
Is it a job shadow, or any number of what I call “little jobs”?
Do we need to try, then try again? We do.
It’s a slippery slope. We can get traction. We can climb out.
Tomorrow, I’ll introduce you to some people who decided to ask the job opportunities to come…to them.
John Scott is an instructor and the Career Services Manager at the School of Communications and Media Technologies, Academy of Art University San Francisco.