One of the most rewarding, and challenging experiences of my life was when I ascended Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania in 2011.
It's not quite a "climb" but rather a slow hike, and the key to making it up to the top is by walking VERY SLOWLY, or as they say in Tanzania - "Pole, Pole" (pronounced Poh-lay, meaning "take it slow and easy"). You can't take more than a few very slow steps at a time.
"Pole Pole" isn't just a Swahili phrase that encourages you to walk slow, but it's also a way of life in Tanzania. The deeper meaning behind the translation is "slow down to enjoy the journey."
When you climb "Kili," as the locals call it, it's hard to resist the urge to walk faster than you're allowed. Following an experienced guide you are forced to take it slow step by slow step so that your body can acclimate to the altitude.
Meanwhile, local porters who have made the climb hundreds of times are rushing past you with oversized luggage and bags hauled over their heads so that they can set up your next campsite.
You start the three day hike to the top through a beautiful lush green forest leading to grassy, open fields, and ultimately through a barren and cold mountain desert until you reach the base of the peak.
From there it's another 7 hour extremely steep climb in total darkness as you ascend up to the top of one of the highest peaks in the world.
It is not for the faint of heart, but when you make it to the "roof of Africa" and watch the sunrise, it is an emotional and life-changing experience.
As I look back on that experience, I can't help but make the parallels between the climb up Kilimanjaro and the "climb" up the mountain that you will face in your career.
The peak can look so daunting and so far away. At the same time, you can get so eager to want to move as fast as you can to reach the top, even though you're being told by those supporting you along the way that you have to take it slow.
There are times when it's lush, green and feels like an easy stroll, and other times when it's cold, dark, and barren, and path is incredibly steep and difficult.
You might feel impatient at the pace you're going, and get discouraged when you see others carrying heavier loads and are cruising up the mountain faster than you are.
If the goal is to make it to the top of the mountain, YOU WILL GET THERE! It just might take going at a different pace than others, walking an alternate route, making more stops than others along the way, and crossing difficult terrain along your career path.
If you're determined enough to succeed, take it step by step, and live "Pole Pole," you'll eventually reach the peak, and enjoy the journey along the way.
Have you ever bought a new outfit, or suit, or piece of clothing, and it just doesn't fit right?
The arms are too long, it's too loose or too tight in areas, and it just doesn't feel very comfortable?
Why did you decide to buy that outfit? Was it cheap, or convenient? Maybe you just needed something for a particular occasion, or maybe it looked better on the rack than it does when you put it on.
If you really cared about finding the right suit or clothing, you might have spent a little more time, effort and money to make sure you found exactly what you were excited about. You'd get your exact measurements taken, spend a little more money, try it on for size, and check out a few options to choose from.
And when you FINALLY find that right fit, that perfect shirt, shoes, dress or suit, you feel incredibly confident and comfortable. It's an outfit you want to wear on a regular basis. You can't wait to put it on, show it off, and wear it until it's worn out and you need a new one.
In your career, when you're feeling stuck and are ready for a new direction or change, the same principle applies.
To find a career that makes you feel fulfilled, confident, comfortable, and happy, you have to look beyond just getting any job, you have to find the right fit.
Finding any job, like buying any outfit off the rack, is easy. Finding a carer or a job that's the right fit for you takes effort.
Just like knowing your exact measurements, the color, style, shape and design you want will help you find your ideal outfit, knowing the qualities of your ideal work environment - your interests, your strengths, and your values - will help you identify your ideal career fit.
Take the time to reflect and think about what you really want from your ideal job. What's your best day look like, what's the office look like (if you want to work in one), how big or small is the company, how long is your commute, what are your co-workers like?
When you're stuck it can be easy to identify what you don't like in a job, and what isn't a good fit, just like knowing you won't buy or wear that ugly tshirt that's on the store mannequin. But when you know what will be the right fit, you'll have the courage, energy and motivation to seek it out.
You still might need a bit of "tailoring" here and there to make it fit just right, but when you do find that job or career path that feels like the perfect fit, you'll feel confident, comfortable, and excited to "put it on" every day ... until you're ready for the next one!
When you know you're ready for a change, ready to reach a new level, ready to work hard towards a new goal in your career, do you ever find yourself ready to create a plan of action, but then get held back by making excuses and saying "yeah...but..."?
"Yeah, I want a new job, but I'm not qualified for the positions that appeal to me."
"Yeah, I am ready to make new connections that will help my career, but I'm just not good at networking."
"Yeah, I am looking to change careers, but no one will hire me because of my (age, gender, background, salary requirements, etc)."
The beliefs that we hold are based on what we see and hear from those around us (from friends, family, social media, news), and can have a powerful effect on our ability to take action towards our goals.
Think about it - if you believe that you won't be hired for a job because of your qualifications (or lack thereof) or background, then what affect will that have on your motivation to pursue a new job?
We all carry these limiting beliefs that we're often unconscious of. We don't always stop to think about why we believe what we do, or what the truth is behind those beliefs. We usually just accept them as we always have.
There was a time when everyone believed we couldn't go to the moon, or break a 4-minute mile, or cure certain diseases like polio, but certain courageous individuals challenged those beliefs and made the "impossible" possible.
Before you can take any action towards change, you need to acknowledge the beliefs you have that might be keeping you from moving forward. There's no point in setting a goal if the messages you're telling yourself will keep you from taking the first step.
When you've decided on the goal that you're ready to pursue (the "Yeah), before you take the first step ask yourself what beliefs you're holding onto that might get in the way (the "but"). And when you've identified those beliefs, dig deeper to really explore two things: 1) the source of that belief, and 2) how true it really is.
Once you've explored your beliefs further, you can have a better understanding of how they are supporting you, or holding you back. If it is keeping you from moving forward, then ask yourself if there's a different version of that belief that you can tell yourself to motivate you to take the next step.
So the next time you find yourself saying "yeah...but..." take a moment to think about the beliefs that are limiting you a little deeper. Change your beliefs to "yeah...and..." to get excited about new possibilities in your career, and use that new belief to motivate yourself to reach the next level.
Everyone faces tough times at some point in their career. And most of the challenges that we experience are ones that we can share with each other at some point in our lives.
Here are a few examples of some major career challenges you may have experienced. Which ones can you relate to?
1) You've been a loyal employee at your company for a couple of years and are ready to take the next step to a promotion. One of your colleagues who is in a higher position is leaving, and you're hoping to step up to that role. Unfortunately, the promotion was given to one of your co-workers who is in your same position, and has even been at the company for a shorter period of time.
2) You have interviewed for a job you're really excited about. You met multiple times with people at the company, and have done all you can do to put yourself in a position to receive an offer. However, you received a call letting you know the company was going to hire another candidate.
3) You've been a job for about 6 months, but it's never felt like the right fit. In fact, you've even started looking for a new position. You're called into a meeting with your supervisor who says that it hasn't been working out, and informs you that you're being laid off.
4) You're going on the 5th year at your job. You're feeling bored, burned out, unmotivated and it's showing in your performance lately. You are ready for a new challenge, either at your current company or at a new job but don't know how to make that happen.
While these are common challenges that many people face in their careers, what sets everyone apart is how they are dealt with. Each one of these situations are difficult and don't have an easy solution to overcome.
The first thing to do to move forward in these tough situations is to acknowledge them for what they are, and understand that it's normal to feel upset and frustrated when they happen.
But, to move past them, you should remind yourself that all experiences are opportunities for growth.
The road to success in your career is never a straight line, and there will always be detours, wrong turns, and bumps along the way. The question is how will you handle those obstacles when they come along.
In tough times we can't always explain, or find the reasoning behind what happened. All we can do is move forward. And the best way to do that to learn, grow and move to the next step is to ask yourself this one question:
WHAT'S THE OPPORTUNITY?
When you accept the circumstances and are ready to move forward after a setback, asking yourself where the opportunity lies within the challenge will allow you to see the situation in a different way, ask yourself empowering questions, and open yourself up to new possibilities.
Let's look at the scenarios above again and possible opportunities that can come from them:
1) Passed over for a promotion. What's the potential opportunity?
Schedule a meeting with your supervisors to review your performance, and express your interest in moving up in the company.
2) Didn't get the job offer. What's the potential opportunity?
You've expanded your network through the contacts you made from the interview process.
3) Laid off. What's the potential opportunity?
Pursue a new direction in your career that you've long wanted, but have been putting off for years.
4) Bored at work. What's the potential opportunity?
Take a class to develop new professional skills and explore a new field of interest.
Of course it's not always easy to see the benefit from a difficult situation, but no matter how tough it can get in your career, there's always an opportunity to learn, grow and move forward in both good and bad times. It may not be in the direction you expected, but it may lead you on a path towards something bigger and better for you in your career.
I just returned from a conference with other career development professionals, and it's always an event that I love and look forward to each year.
Leaving the conference, I walk away with TONS of great ideas, best practices, inspiration and new tools to help support my clients and develop my own professional skills.
But my favorite part, and the most beneficial aspect of any professional gathering, is the community.
It's growing new and old professional relationships and friendships with other people who love to support the careers of others as I do. It's an opportunity to exchange ideas, but also to share the ups, downs, frustrations, rewards and most importantly the enthusiasm for what we do.
Not only that, but the relationships that are formed lead the way to form partnerships, hear about potential job opportunities, and connect with people who will be supportive of each other in their careers in the future.
No matter where you are in your career - if you're exploring new jobs and industries, want to grow in your current position, or just want to find a way to stay connected to your interests outside of work, you need to find and build your community.
Find the people who share your interests, relate to your struggles, celebrate your successes, value your ideas, and want to support and help you grow in your career.
Where can you find your community? Everywhere!
You don't need to spend money to fly to a professional conference (although it IS an amazing opportunity to learn and network). Find a group on meetup.com, join a social club, attend local alumni events, volunteer with an organization or cause you believe in, organize a happy hour with your colleagues, or invite someone who you'd like to get to know more professionally to grab a coffee.
Having a community of people who want to support you professionally will do wonders for your career. You will learn new insights and ideas, you'll discover new professional opportunities, and most importantly, you'll know you're not alone on your career path.
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