Our Futures Are Not Carved in Stone, Unless We Want Them to Be

When I left my first job after six months I was told I was making a mistake

Henry Davis York building Sydney with MLC on tower
Henry Davis York Building, Sydney, with MLC carved on tower, Nov 30, 2011

My first real job out of high school was in the head office of one of Australia’s leading life insurance companies, the Mutual Life and Citizens’ Assurance company or MLC, founded in 1886 as the Citizens’ Assurance Company.

The office was in the prestigious Martin Place, then and now the closest thing Sydney has to a civic square.

I imagine that in Sydney at that time, someone who wanted a career in life insurance could probably not have asked for a more distinguished, solid company to be employed by.

Which surely helps to explain the Chief Accountant’s frowning mixture of disapproval and concern on the day when, after only six months of being basically an office boy although no doubt with “prospects”, I informed the said Chief Accountant that I was leaving to do something else with my life.

“You could become a rolling stone”, he said, solemnly.

He did not mean that I was on my way to becoming a famous singer in a band and could he get my autograph now. Rather that I might “gather no moss”, in the original sense of the phrase, becoming rootless and without responsibility or stability.

There is however another interpretation of the proverb “a rolling stone gathers no moss”, that if you keep moving you will not get stale or rusty.

That’s the interpretation I like.

The letters are still there in the stone, but the company has changed

Having survived the developer’s wrecking ball that in the second half of the 20th century destroyed so many of Sydney’s fine old buildings, the old MLC building is still there, although it’s not the company’s headquarters any more.

It is now the Henry Davis York building.

But as I observed yesterday on a visit to Sydney,  the letters MLC are still there on the building’s tower, carved in stone some time around 1936 when construction began.

That was surely a bold statement that the company was there to stay, and with the same initials, for at least as long as the building would stand.

In fact the company has long gone from that particular building, and has been acquired, first by Lend Lease in the 1980s and then by the National Australia Bank in 2000.

And yet the brand lives on, with some $122 billion under management as of March this year.

Not a bad look.

As for the erstwhile office assistant (the Chief Accountant didn’t like me calling myself the “office boy”) I’m glad I moved on too.

Because on balance, for all the changes in my life and career, some by deliberate choice and others because of circumstance, I have enjoyed the challenges, new perspectives, new relationships, successes and “learning experiences” those changes have brought or enabled.

Change, the new normal

As we know, change isn’t always easy, and sometimes we may feel that our future is metaphorically carved in stone.

But surely in these days of a constantly shifting, volatile, globalized economy, with increasingly rapid technological developments, being ready and even eager to embrace change is surely an essential mindset and skillset for a business or a career.

Anyway, why not go with the flow and create the futures we want, not just fit in with someone else’s ideas of what’s good for us?

Des Walsh

Business coach and digital entrepreneur. With coach training from Coachville.com and its Graduate School of Coaching, and a founding member of the International Association of Coaching, Des has been coaching business owners and entrepreneurs for the past 20 years. Over the same period he has also been actively engaged in promoting the business opportunities of the digital economy. He is a certified Neurolinguistic Programming (NLP) coach, and a certified specialist in social media strategy and affiliate marketing.

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  1. Nice piece Des.

    It does seem our past can be carved in stone. Here’s my stone memory.

    There is only one photo of my paternal grandparents, and I treasure it. It’s a black and white and they are standing it seems somewhere rural, probably on their land. Like your MLC photo, all you can see is their shoulders and heads.

    You don’t have to see the photo to see my grandparents… they are (almost) carved in stone. What I mean is that they appear exactly like We Are Our Mountains. This is perhaps the most famous stone sculpture in Armenia. You can see the sculpture here on Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/We_Are_Our_Mountains.

    1. Thanks Noric. Amazing stone sculpture.

      I have a picture somewhere of my paternal grandparents, not so much carved in stone, and not quite American Gothic, but definitely “planted” – tough lives break people or make them tough. I think the word indomitable was made for my grandmother and its in that photo.

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