Oh, the Places You’ll Go!

It’s been just over 100 years since Dr. Seuss was born and more than sixteen years since he wrote Oh, the Places You’ll Go!, but the primary context for the book still rings true. Life will present you with many paths forward and a few that are back, but it is the ones to success you should plan to attack.

The ACS careers theme for October is “going places”, and upon reflection, I was reminded of a book one of my professors gave me when I got my Ph.D. With 44 pages of illustrated text, I would classify the book, Oh, the Places You’ll Go! by Dr. Seuss, as an easy read. Some might even say that it is on an elementary level, but I would argue that it has one central lesson that few adults choose to learn. Here is a quote from page two that drives the point home.

“You have brains in your head.
You have feet in your shoes.
You can steer yourself
Any direction you choose.
You’re on your own. And you know what you know.
And YOU are the guy who’ll decide where to go.”

My perceived lesson from the book was that we must all be responsible for the choices that we make in life, and that the success or failure of our careers depends most strongly on us. We will face disappointments, challenges and stumbling blocks, but there is always a path through, over or under if we can bring ourselves to find it. This interpretation was reinforced by a presentation that Dr. Katie Hunt recently gave at ACS HQ in Washington, DC.

During her talk, Dr. Hunt spoke about the path that she chose in life as the daughter of a chemist who discouraged her from a life in science to her current role as the incoming President of the Society. At every step she made decisions and chose to remain aware of her environment. She said that she consciously thought about each decision point in the context of what she wanted for herself and for her family.

The one time that she let her guard down was during a stint at a manufacturing facility. She had moved away from corporate headquarters and lost touch with the network of analytical scientists and managers that she had come to know. She had become absorbed in her new role as a process chemist, and knew nothing about the company’s need to downsize operations. She was laid off.

In the months that followed she said that she quickly rebuilt her network, and found out about the new directions of the company. Through her analytical colleagues, she found out about the company’s need to integrate proven analytical techniques into their manufacturing processes, and she positioned herself as someone with a proven record in both platforms. In her words, she “woke up, and she rebuilt [her] network.”

Success is about decisions that we choose to make. We must remain conscious of our environment and be sure of our next step.

“Step with care and great tact
and remember that Life’s a Great Balancing Act.
Just never forget to be dexterous and deft.
And never mix up your right foot with your left.

And you will succeed?
Yes! You will, indeed!
(98 and ¾ percent guaranteed.)”

This article was written by David Harwell, Assistant Director of the ACS Department of Career Management & Development. Originally published in the chemistry.org newsletter on Oct. 17, 2006.

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