What to do when you feel like you are not moving forward

If you had to point in the direction of progress, which direction would you point? If you had to draw it on a piece of paper, what would it look like? It might look like an arrow pointing to the right, or diagonally up and to the right. Forward. Onward. Upward.

Alison Levine, a woman who has climbed to the highest peak on every continent and skied to both the north and south poles, thinks differently.  Alison was sharing some of the leadership lessons she learned from climbing Mount Everest at yesterday’s Invent Your Future conference in Silicon Valley.

Created with Microsoft Fresh Paint

There are multiple camps along the path to the summit, but Alison explained that climbing to the top is not a matter of starting at the bottom and then progressively climbing higher and higher, stopping at each subsequent camp. In fact, it looks more like this.

Created with Microsoft Fresh Paint

So, even though the objective is to climb to the top, a significant proportion of your time is spent going back down to basecamp. The first time you reach one of the camps, the purpose is to help your body acclimate itself to the altitude. But, at that altitude, the human body begins deteriorating, so you need to go back down to base camp in order to rest and regain your strength to climb even higher.

“Even though you are going backwards, you are still making progress.”

This is a difficult lesson to digest for those who are used to always moving onward and upward. My clients often talk about how they are dissatisfied with their lack of forward movement, want to make the best use of their time, or don’t want to waste their time.

It may sound counter-intuitive to have to climb back down the mountain after reaching each camp. But it is only counter-intuitive if you think that reaching the summit is the singular objective. However, there is another, more important objective in play: to stay alive, both before and after reaching the summit. When you bring that objective into focus, taking the time to keep climbing back down to basecamp makes sense.

Sometimes we Type-A folks forget that there are other objectives in play. It’s easy to cling to objectives that are visible and measurable, like ascending titles, degrees earned, or salary. It can be more difficult to retain a focus on other objectives like health, fulfillment, and nurturing our relationships with loved ones, until we are sick, unhappy, or painfully absent.

So, if you don’t feel like you’re moving forward, I encourage you to take some time to examine your objectives. Ask yourself:
1) What is the objective you don’t feel like you’re making progress against?
Is the way you’re currently spending your time helping to make you better able to achieve that objective? (If not, then ask)
2) Is that truly the only goal you are working toward right now? What are the other things that are important to you?
Is what you’re doing now fulfilling these other areas of your life that are important? (If not, then ask:)
3) What can you do right now to nurture your ability to achieve any of these objectives going forward?

“Progress is not just one direction. It can happen in many different directions.” It really depends on your objective, that thing which you are trying to achieve. And, it depends on what you need personally to cultivate the strength to go after your goals.

Want to read more about Alison’s lessons learned from climbing Mt. Everest? Check out her book, On The Edge: The Art of High-Impact Leadership

Three reasons why Type-A folks need to learn to pause

There’s something about achievement that feels really good.  Arriving at the right answer.  Finishing something.  Getting to the next level.  If you identify as Type-A, you have felt the drive to continue onward and upward.  As soon as you’ve finished something, you’re looking for the next thing.  As a result, Type-A folks have the ability to get a lot of stuff done.  But the dark side of the Type-A mentality is the tendency not to pause.

pause

What’s so great about pausing?  Well, as good as achievement feels, your go-go-go attitude is likely leaving you feeling less fulfilled and happy than you would feel if you took the time to pause.  Here’s why:

Pausing gives you a chance to re-evaluate whether you’re chasing the right goals.  In his book, The Quarterlife Breakthrough, Adam Poswolsky points out that many professionals suffer from  the “career ladder mindset.”  The career ladder mindset convinces people that the success is achieved by ascending the ranks within the field you’re in.  The problem is, “career ladders define success on someone else’s terms,” not your own.  As a result, you may find yourself at a crisis point when you realize that what you’re doing is not aligned with what you really want.  Taking periodic pauses in your career to define what success means for you will help you avoid wasting time on a path that isn’t a good fit.

Pausing gives you space to celebrate your accomplishments, without immediately burdening yourself with the next item on the to-do list.  I recently complimented a friend on hitting a major milestone on a project.  She replied that there was still so much work to do.  When you complete something, does your mind immediately go to what’s next?  When was the last time you gave yourself permission to fully celebrate a win?  Regularly taking time to reflect on what has gone well will make you a happier person.  Try instituting a daily celebration routine.  If you don’t take time to celebrate now, when will you?

Pausing gives you time to rest and recuperate, so you can dive into your next project energized.    As much as you may hate to admit it, you are human, and your human body needs rest in order to function at its best.  Whether it’s taking a moment of mindfulness to lower your stress level, or letting yourself sleep so that you can avoid damaging your brain, it’s important to take time off.  Don’t wait until your annual vacation (if you even take one!) to give yourself time to unplug.  Smaller increments of time spent off the hamster wheel, on a more frequent basis, will enable you to produce more high quality work than burning out will.  And as mentioned before, if you’re Type-A, producing high quality work feels good.

I am as guilty as any Type-A of forgetting to hit pause every once in a while.  Do you forget to take time to pause, too?  Here’s a tip from one Type-A to another: schedule it.  Block off time on your calendar, and make it a recurring appointment.  Choose to take time to reflect, celebrate, or be present.  It’s not a full-stop; it’s just a pause.  When you’re done, you can go back to your regularly scheduled achieving.

 

The #1 mistake people make when networking to find a job

My colleague was lamenting how his networking efforts weren’t producing many job opportunities.  He was afraid that his network was “tapped out.”  I asked him how he was leveraging his network.  What were the exact words he used when reaching out to people?

“Well, I email them my resume, and I ask them to send opportunities my way.”

It’s no wonder why he wasn’t getting much of a response, I thought.  But my colleague, who went to top-tier schools for both his undergrad studies and his MBA, didn’t seem to realize what a big mistake he had made. 

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