What I Talk About When I Talk About Trains

Driving a train is very easy. Switching tracks is hard.

When I lived in Texas a few years ago, I would wake up in the middle of the night to the distant sound of a train whistle as it passed me on the tracks near the house. I found it soothing, and I would fall back asleep, quickly. Now I have them by my house here in Montreal, too. It’s like I’m following them.

If a train is already in motion, there isn’t much you need to do. But switching tracks requires organization, timing, and a little bit of vision. Most people don’t see the switches coming, but that’s ok as long as the track continues.

Most people’s careers are like railroads. Choosing a track is the hard part, but from then on, the next step forward is a very easy thing to do. All of this remains true until you have to change tracks. Then, suddenly, we have no clue what we’re supposed to be doing or how we’d start. We feel kind of stupid, again, the way we did when we started on this track a little while ago. We feel like we’re trying to learn to swim or walk– mostly flailing, with very little understanding of how to stabilize. A lot of wishful thinking goes on where we think “We’ll be fine.”

The interesting part about this is that you have to be at a crossroads yourself, just watching, to see a train switch tracks effectively. You have to go out of your way, travel a bit, in order to see it. Otherwise all you see is this perfect movement, trains gliding along towards their destinations, effortlessly.

But the switching does happen. I know it does, and it has to. So I don’t worry too much about how perfect they seem.





8 responses to “What I Talk About When I Talk About Trains”

  1. Bob LeDrew Avatar

    VERY wise thoughts and a great metaphor, Julien.

    Just to extend your metaphor one or two steps: where are the “switching yards” for people, and when we have to make the switches, man, that takes some backing and forthing and it makes lots of noise.

  2. Rajesh Setty Avatar

    Brilliant metaphor there Julien.

    The problem gets complex as there are passengers who signed up with you for the original destination. You not only have to switch the tracks, you have to convince people that the new destination is a better one to go.

    Have a great week ahead.


  3. Andrew Syiek Avatar


    Excellent motivational, straightforward(no pun intended)insight into career and life transition, thank you.

  4. Amy Canada Avatar

    Thought provoking, Julien.

    Sadly, some of us switch tracks, then spend too much time looking back, wondering if we chose the right one to switch to. What if the track on the left was the one? Life, like a train, has a lot of options.

    I’m trying to be someone who chooses a track and never looks back.

  5. Jay Avatar

    Great analogy for when you are beginning something new. Like in your analogy, we so rarely see people go through this awkward transition first-hand, so we sometimes get caught thinking it is unusual when it happens to us. But no, it is normal. And I think it is healthy to accept this awkwardness with a light heart and take each step at a time.

  6. Matthew Gallant Avatar

    I recently did the opposite myself: moved from Montreal to Texas. What a funny coincidence! (Apologies for being rather off topic.)

  7. Lauren Avatar

    I work best on trains, and in transit in general. I jot down the best notes and ideas that become the best blog posts and projects.

    My ‘track jumping’ (job transitioning), was quite deliberate. The trick to it is to never, not for one moment, stop thinking of where you are, what you want to accomplish and what you want to accomplish next.

    Get off the train a few times, enjoy where you are, talk to the locals, learn from them and learn yourself.

    That way when the transition comes, you’ll know what it is.

    Maybe what I’m trying to say that in reality, it’s not a leap, it’s a side-step when done right?

  8. Steve Ellwood Avatar

    Just a brief comment.

    I do like the switching tracks analogy, but “Driving a train is very easy.”?

    I’m not a train driver, but to be fair, that’s a comment possibly due to lack of knowledge of another’s profession.

    Have a look at:
    http://www.railwayregister.care4free.net/becoming_a_train_driver.htm#WHAT TRAIN DRIVING INVOLVES

    Not *all* that easy.

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