I recently re-watched "The Karate Kid." If you've never seen the film, it revolves around Daniel, a New York teenager transplanted to suburban Los Angeles. Daniel quickly discovers that he's out of place. He is bullied by classmates until the Japanese handyman at his apartment complex comes to his defense, chasing off the bullies with karate.
The handyman, Mr. Miyagi, then agrees to become Daniel's karate instructor in exchange for help with household chores. He has Daniel wax his antique cars, always in a particular circular motion: "Wax on, wax off." He makes him paint the fence, always up and down with the brush, never side to side.
Daniel soon becomes frustrated, feeling that he's being taken advantage of and will never have a real karate lesson. It's only later that he realizes that all of those circular and up-and-down motions were training him in karate moves he would eventually use to win the karate tournament, get the girl, and become the hero by movie's end.
Why am I bringing up a film from 1984? It's because most of us have been there. We've all had moments in our careers where we felt stalled, that we were just spinning our wheels, that nothing we were working on was bringing us any closer to our long-term career goals.
I graduated from Penn State with a broadcast journalism degree. My first job was at a very small UHF TV station in Pittsburgh, so small that we had to learn to do everything. I worked for our news department, which consisted of the news director and me. I had to learn to write copy, shoot stories, edit stories, and be on-camera for the stories—basically just about every task required for news and video production.
There, and at several other jobs throughout my career, I felt frustrated, stuck, and that I was going nowhere. I had planned to be the next Walter Cronkite, but sometimes life has other plans. Often, the paths you take, and some you choose because you feel there are no better options, shape you in ways you don't realize until many years later.
Along the way, I learned about managing people, handling finances, supervising an HR department, and of course honing my skills as a print and video journalist. Looking back, I can see how all of those experiences, both good and bad, shaped my career. They gave me the knowledge I needed and opened doors to do the work I now love.
As all of us begin a new year, my hope is that the situations, challenges, and opportunities you face in 2019 will prove to be valuable learning experiences that prepare you for good things to come. Oh, and remember: Wax on, wax off!