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

When things don’t turn out the way you thought they would

Brian was in his second year of business school, and wasn’t really sure what his next step would be.  He couldn’t imagine going back to what he did before school, and felt like.  Like many MBAs, he thought that he wanted to go into consulting.  It wasn’t until after he got the job that he realized it wasn’t a good fit.

Listen to the twists and turns his career path took before he found the intersection of what he’s passionate about, and what he’s good at.

This post is the first in a series of Transition Stories: first-hand accounts of how people have navigated decision points and pivots in their career paths.

Repost: A story about car keys

In honor of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, here’s a re-post on a lesser known (but no less inspirational) story from the civil rights movement.

—————————————————————————————–

I don’t know if it’s because of the inspiring speech from the Great Oakland Public Schools fundraiser tonight, or if it’s my hypersensitivity to the caffeine from the Thai Iced tea I had at lunch, but I can’t sleep right now.  So why not spend this time doing one of the things I wanted to do more of this year – write on this blog!

I want to share a story with you about car keys, that Mike Johnston told during his keynote speech at tonight’s fundraiser.  For those of you who don’t know of Mike Johnston, he’s someone who has been very active in education reform.  He helped found New Leaders for New Schools, is currently a State Senator in Colorado, and wrote a transformation ed reform bill in Colorado, that has sparked similar ed reform bills in 14 other states.  He’s also recently been featured as one of Time Magazine’s 40 under 40.  Look him up.  He’s awesome.
Continue reading

Back to the drawing board

It was a week before I was going to graduate with my MBA from UC Berkeley.

I was meeting with my mentor, Arina Issacson, a truly radiant human being for whom I had taught a few sections of Leadership Communication during business school.  She asked whether I had a full-time job lined up. 

I said no.  I could feel the pit of my stomach tighten.  There were only a handful of people from my class graduating without a job, and I was one of them.  Continue reading

Envision your dream life (and make it real)

Back when I was in the third or fourth grade, I came up with a list of things I would do the time I turned 30:

-graduate from college
-get a job
-buy a house
-get married (closer to when I turned 30)
-get ready to have kids (by doing the rest of the things on the list)

It recently occurred to me that it’s time to come up with a new vision for my future.  I’m 29 now, and I’ve done almost every item on my by-the-time-I’m-30 list.  (I’m not married yet, but I am engaged.  Love you, Sam!)

This time around, I’ve chosen to approach my future in a different way.  Ever since my sister watched The Secret, she had talked about how we should create vision boards for ourselves, visual representations of what we wanted in life.  I liked the idea, and we agreed that someday, we’d get together and do just that.  For years we put it off, but with the impending completion/expiration of my by-the-time-I’m-30 list, I figured now was a good time to get together over a weekend and get it done.  My cousin came over, too, and my living room turned into an arts and crafts and vision and encouragement fest.

Visions are different from goals.  Continue reading

How to answer the question “What kind of job are you looking for?”

***DISCLAIMER: The following dialogue is a dramatization, and in no way reflects how much whining my boyfriend did in the early stages of his job search.***

“So, what kind of job are you looking for?”

“Arrrrrrrrrgh!  I don’t know.  Why do you keep asking me that?”

My boyfriend, now employed, told me that getting him to answer that question was the single most helpful thing I did during the months I coached him through his search for a full-time job.

“So, what kind of job are you looking for?”

“I don’t want to talk about this anymore.  I just want to find a job.”

Well, babe, it’s kinda hard to find something when you don’t know what you’re looking for.  More importantly, it’s especially hard for someone to help you find something when you can’t define what it is you want to find.  Continue reading

A story about car keys

I don’t know if it’s because of the inspiring speech from the Great Oakland Public Schools fundraiser tonight, or if it’s my hypersensitivity to the caffeine from the Thai Iced tea I had at lunch, but I can’t sleep right now.  So why not spend this time doing one of the things I wanted to do more of this year – write on this blog!

I want to share a story with you about car keys, that Mike Johnston told during his keynote speech at tonight’s fundraiser.  For those of you who don’t know of Mike Johnston, he’s someone who has been very active in education reform.  He helped found New Leaders for New Schools, is currently a State Senator in Colorado, and wrote a transformation ed reform bill in Colorado, that has sparked similar ed reform bills in 14 other states.  He’s also recently been featured as one of Time Magazine’s 40 under 40.  Look him up.  He’s awesome.
Continue reading

For undergrads: a mind map to get you started

Last week I did a workshop for undergrads on some basic tips on how to get started with their career search.  I only had about 45 minutes, so I focused on framing up the career search process as Contemplating, Communicating, and Connecting.

A few days later, I realized that what may be more helpful to give them is a template to help them organize their thoughts.  I did a similar mind-mapping exercise with my boyfriend, but wanted to create a tool that had all of the questions and guidance built into it.

I built it out on Mindmeister.com, where anyone can sign up for a free account and expand on the template mind map I created.  Here’s what I came up with (click on the picture to go to the map on Mindmeister.com):

 

The most useful concept I learned in undergrad

“So, I ask… any words of advice?”

I didn’t know what to write back.  I was excited by but also unprepared for the overwhelming response I got after my talk at UC Berkeley.  I poured out my story to a group of strangers, in hopes that they would open up and ask questions they may not have asked otherwise.  And they did ask.  But even after this one girl took a risk and poured out her own story into an email, I didn’t know how to answer her question.

I can talk about my own experience, and I can pass along advice that I’ve found helpful, but sometimes it seems like people really just want to know what they should do.

I can’t tell them. I wish I could, but it’s their decision to make.  The most that I can do is help people sort through their thoughts and help them come to a good decision, using one of the most useful concepts I learned in undergrad.

Decision analysis. I love this stuff.  According to Answers.com, decision analysis “offers individuals and organizations a methodology for making decisions.” Continue reading

Advice for my undergraduate self

About a month ago, I received an invitation to speak in front of a group of undergrads.  I had spoken on panels before, but I had never been asked to give a talk, by myself.

The invitation asked me to talk about my MBA experience and the type of options my MBA allowed me to have after my graduation.  Doing that could take less than ten minutes.  I had up to an hour to fill.

Q&A could fill some of that time, but what could I tell them to ensure that they would have questions to ask?  And be comfortable enough to ask them?  I began to think about what would be the things they may not think to ask.  What were the things I would not have known to ask, when I was their age?

It occured to me that many of the students in my audience would be freshmen and sophomores, and it’s been a full ten years since I was in their shoes.  I crafted my talk around what would have been helpful for me to hear ten years ago, as a freshman in college.

Here is a recorded, condensed version of the presentation I gave at UC Berkeley on Monday, March 14th, 2011.