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The Path to Success Is a Squiggly Line

“I started thinking, What would I really love to do? I figured being a fireman or law-enforcement officer would be a lot of fun,” Kryger said. So in 1988, he became an officer on the Oakland police force.

On January 20, 1993, while searching a house with his team, Kryger was shot in the thigh by a suspect. The bullet severed his femoral artery, vein, and nerve. Surgery and months of rehabilitation saved his leg, but he needed to wear a brace for physical activity. “The police department wouldn’t let me go out on the streets in that condition. They offered me a whole bunch of other positions, but I knew I wouldn’t be satisfied if I had to stay inside a building all day.” At 32, he switched careers again.

Thinking of the “amazing high-school coaches” who inspired him, Kryger met with the assistant superintendent of his school district, who advised him about the courses he’d need to complete in order to coach and teach math in the public­-school system. It took three more years of college, plus another year when he was teaching high school during the day and completing his own studies at night. But he kept at it. Two decades later, Kryger is the athletic director at Menlo­-Atherton High School, where he also teaches four math classes and coaches the boys’ varsity lacrosse team.

When I observed that some people might have reacted far less op­timistically to events like getting shot and having to abandon a ca­reer they loved, Kryger said, “Initially your reaction is frustration, and you wish these bad things didn’t happen. But very quickly, you’ve got to move on with life. As we talk about in sports and I tell my kids, the most important play is always the next one.”

Kryger’s story is similar to that of Nate McKinley, who overcame a set of internal challenges before settling on the job that would become his career. McKinley started out following the path that had been set for him by his father, an international busi­nessman. He majored in global studies, with a concentration in business, choosing his classes at his father’s suggestion. After graduation, he worked at a financial institution before switching to a securities-lending start-up. At first he found the job exciting, but his enthusiasm waned after a year or so, and the three­-hour round-­trip commute seemed longer and longer. Eventually, McKinley told me, he decided he wanted to try something more challenging: “A friend brought me an old apple press, and I made my first batch of hard cider. It was revolting! So during my commute on the train, I would read about yeast, fermentation, and the hundr of varieties of apples. My next batch of cider wasn’t gross; it was actually drinkable.”

McKinley persisted, and soon he had batches of five-gallon jugs of fermenting cider in his basement. A year or so later, he was ready to let others try his brew: “At our annual Halloween party, we had a tasting and encouraged the neighbors to bring apples to press and to have a taste. People liked it!”