Something occurred to me tonight when I was reading my almost-3-year-old “Jack and the Beanstalk” for the 50th (60th?) time this week: what if Jack hadn’t climbed the beanstalk? What if, instead, he chose to play it safe and stay on solid ground? The short answer is that the story would be over and “the end” would come much too soon.

It made me think that, in many ways, our career exploration is like Jack and the Beanstalk. (Bear with me, here.) An opportunity presented itself to Jack and he took it, but the beanstalk only existed because he planted the seeds. Opportunities in life are like this, too - if you plant your own seeds, by following your curiosities and testing out a few options, you’ll find opportunities, both big and small, begin to appear. Once that happens, you’re faced with a decision: do you climb the beanstalk, or do you play it safe and stay on the ground?

My suggestion, of course, is to climb the beanstalk, even if you don’t know what’s at the top. Usually, if you find that it isn’t something desirable, you can climb carefully back down and pursue something else. The alternative is wondering, for the rest of time, what the heck was up there.

This isn’t the only story that parallels career exploration. Dorothy, too, had an opportunity appear before her in the yellow brick road - and she took it. Yes, there were some scary interruptions along the way (flying monkeys, anyone?) but if she had not followed the yellow brick road, she may never have met her best friends (representing intelligence, heart, and courage); instead, she would have been trapped in Munchkinland. (OK, the Wizard of Oz analogy just got weird...)

The fact is, life is full of small opportunities. If we make one good decision at a time, the whole “career exploration” process seems suddenly more manageable. And if we take advantages of the opportunities in front of us just one at a time, we can piece together our own unique path. If we’re lucky, it’ll be a meaningful one.