You have maybe been doing what you do for a living for some time. I know I have! But what could you have been? You could say that the world we navigate is a series of interconnecting and crisscrossing paths. Our lives unfold as a journey along one route, but there are so many more routes you could have taken. It can often be the smallest thing that decides your direction of travel. So, given the almost arbitrary route selection we end up with, let me ask you a couple of questions:
- If you could have been anything at all, what do you think you would now be doing to earn a living?
- If you had taken a different path at one of the many junctions or crossroads in your life, where do you think you might be now and what do you think you would be doing?
I think we often think that our current path was always destined. When I was in my early teens I expressed a desire to join the Royal Navy. I do spend a lot of time on boats. I am not sure what appealed to me. I think in part it was the uniforms and in part it was a fascination with the sea and where it could take you. I had not even sat my O Levels at that time and my parents persuaded me that I should do my exams and then decide. I had been thinking about the Navy for a long time but somehow, in sitting my exams, the notion of the Navy seemed to get left behind.
Next, I decided that I might like to train as a surveyor. No-one in my family, close or distant, as far as I knew had ever trained in a profession so no-one could help me. I was working towards my A levels and was holding two conditional offers of a university place. One was at St Andrews and the other at Newcastle. Both were places to study Geology. However, to this young lad from London, St Andrews was too far away so I dropped that one and decided that if I got into Newcastle, I would swap courses and do surveying.
Another major crossroads in my life! My father became ill during my exams and died. I missed my grades at university by one grade. A teacher at my school took control and persuaded St Andrews to let me in through clearing, and all thoughts of surveying were gone.
I thoroughly enjoyed Geology at St Andrews. Alongside my Geology degree course I did botany for 2 years. Absolutely fascinating. However, at the end of 4 years I fell out of university. What next? Well, my girlfriend of 2 years was from Orkney and so I ended up there, initially for the summer, but turned out to be two years working in and around her father’s farm. I would have given anything at that time to become a farmer. I bought some stock! But the harsh realities soon told me that without capital I was going nowhere.
My earlier thoughts about surveying came to the surface again, as I liked the idea of being partly office and partly field based. However, I could not see any way to finance that option. I needed something that meant that I could return to Scotland and be self-employed. I looked around and at that time there were a lot of vacancies for trainee accountants. It was a professional qualification after all and very portable.
I got married and started my training. I joined a largish firm in London as a trainee. I moved firms a couple of times but within 7 years was back in Scotland and self-employed working long hours to build up a small firm that me and another guy bought on very soft terms.
That seemed to be the end of the side currents of life, but no. I met Helen and a few years later we set off on our own, just the two of us in an office. That was 2001. Worked hard to build up our fledgling business, went through some commercial “learning” moments, but then got the opportunity to buy another small practice. That seemed to go not too bad, so we did the same twice more in the next 4 years. As many of you will know we did the same again in 2022.
There were a lot more times during my life when the winds and tides of life could have taken me somewhere else. Where could I have ended up? I may have joined the Navy, trained as a surveyor. I might just have stayed in London, not gone to university and got a job in a bank. Who knows.
Anyway, at this point I do not really care. I really like what I do, we have built up a good team, my kids are all grown up and seem to be pretty normal, and I am with the people (one in particular) that I want to be with. What else matters?
But it does not stop me wondering what other paths I may have trod in different circumstances.
What’s your story? When you look back, it is probably filled with as many junctions and crossroads as mine.
Alan E Long
The Long Partnership