If you’ve ever climbed a rock wall at your local fitness complex or sporting goods store, I’m betting you didn’t say, “I’m ready to take on K2!” (and mean it) right afterward.
As tedious as our day-to-day work may seem, we can’t just throw ourselves into a position or project we’re not prepared for. That WOULD be like signing up for Team Everest when all we’ve conquered is Team Neighborhood Rock Wall.
One of my absolute favorite authors and bloggers, Seth Godin, encouraged me recently to think of life as a series of difficult but achievable hills that emerge to shake up our plateaus and valleys from time to time. It would be foolish for us to take on a mountain when all we’ve ever really known are gently rolling hills. Likewise, it would be treacherous to our career to consistently take the path of least resistance – going around the hills as opposed to trying to surmount them from time to time.
On one hand, if we try to bite off too much, we risk injury.
On the other hand, if we avoid any hills or challenges, we’ll never build the strength needed to take on the next station or position. We’ll never be prepared for much beyond where we presently sit in our career or our life.
A good way to look at this is when you choose your first real “hill” by overseeing a group of six or seven people. At first, that may seem a hill too steep to climb. And perhaps it’s a stretch to manage the “terrain” of leading a small team. But with time you can tackle it with ease. Before you know it, you’re reaching ever-greater summits – from overseeing a handful of people to leading multiple departments or territories and increasingly complex processes.
Now that we’ve made it clear that you need to choose some hills, and you need to do so on a consistent basis, let’s also keep in mind we need to be choosy about the hills we summit. Too little? You risk not developing the professional muscle needed to get to point B. Too big? You risk overextending yourself to the point where your career is hindered and begins to limp along. You may even take a few steps backward.
Be prepared with the right tools and experience, but also be realistic about your capabilities, so you grow and achieve those milestones in your own time.