Main illustration: Carla Lucena
We all like to think we’re the drivers of our own life. We intuitively feel that we are choosing the route, direction and speed of our journey, and even the type of car we’re traveling in. We have an inbuilt tendency to believe we are deciding our destination, that we are actively mapping out our career direction and our life story.
The truth is, however, that most of us are mere passengers in our own life journey. For a lot of people, the direction and speed of our lives is more a combination of circumstance and luck. Some of us are in the driver’s seat, but the car is on autopilot. Some of us are sitting in the passenger seat but don’t even realize it.
Acknowledging this undermines the notion that we are autonomous beings who make our own decisions. As humans that’s a notion we hold dear, so we persist in the illusion that we have our hands firmly on the wheel.
Turning the wheel
But actually turning that wheel can be daunting. If you’re facing in the same direction as most of the other cars on the road and going at an okay speed, most of us are too inert or scared or complacent to change direction, lest we veer off on an uncertain route.
We love people who genuinely want to learn and grow
The prospect of heading in a new direction can be exhilarating, but also scary. It’s filled with the sense that we might make a mistake, might take a wrong turn, might end up full of regrets, and this can be a powerful deterrent. After all, humans are naturally prone to loss aversion and status quo bias, in life as well as finances.
Whether it’s your career direction, your relationships and friendships, or even the choice of city you live in, most people are content enough with the status quo that they avoid turning the car at all.
Finding your career direction
The technology industry, with all its myriad career opportunities, can give the impression of a much higher level of autonomy in choosing your career direction, but that can depend on what company you end up working for.
In a lot of companies, you can feel like you’re a mere passenger. Detached from the leadership; removed from the sense of mission. You won’t get the sense of personal growth and development that is so central to feeling like you have a positive life trajectory.
At Intercom, however, we are constantly aware of the importance of growth. I’ve experienced that feeling of growth myself in the time I’ve been here – last summer, after more than a decade in journalism, I decided to change industry entirely and join the Content team here at Intercom. A change of environment like that was by its nature going to involve a significant learning curve, but what struck me is the considered, reflective way that such growth is fostered here.
We celebrate great people and great work
It’s not for nothing that one of our company values is: “We love people who genuinely want to learn and grow.” Intercom is growing fast, and as a result everyone is obliged to grow along with it – to learn as the company learns, to expand our personal ambition in parallel with the company’s. The two are inextricably linked, in a palpable way.
Reinforcing that emphasis on growth and learning are the practical means people have to shape our careers – including training programs and people development schemes. Essentially, everyone who turns the wheel of their car to join Intercom can continue to feel like they have a hand on the wheel of their own careers.
Another company value is “We celebrate great people and great work. We believe that it’s important to enjoy the journey and have fun with what we do.”
Enjoying the journey and having fun is an important aspect of our working lives to highlight. Far too many people assume their working life should be at least a little joyless. The very phrase “the daily grind” suggests you should expect that your working life is basically an extension of your gridlocked commute.
But you don’t have to spend your life stuck in traffic, bumper to bumper with everyone else’s cars. So don’t be a passenger in your own life. Take the wheel. Find a place where you feel your future is in your hands and where your growth is something you have control over.
Our lives may not have a “knowable destination”, as such, but we should ensure the journey is as wonderful as we can make it.