A Hiking Guide for Your Career

My big toe peeks out from my sandal, the nail is dark burgundy and splotchy like nail polish needing to be removed; a tangible reminder of my epic Grand Canyon hike. Nearly four months ago, I hiked from the South rim, to the Colorado River, and back to the South rim – all in one day. During my achy, week-long recovery from that 15-hour hiking adventure, I began to realize the lessons I’d learned also applied to my career “hike”. Here are five hard-earned lessons that just might save you some bruised toes along the way.

1.Take the risk

My friends and I hiked roughly 17 miles, down a steep 4,700 foot elevation drop and then back up again. I initially wondered if I could (and should) do it and if I’d regret not trying. The answers were yes (maybe), and yes. Taking the risk was worth the learning and growth I experienced. The confidence I acquired from accomplishing the feat was immeasurable.

Similarly, to learn and grow in one’s career, you must seek out new challenges and watch for unexpected opportunities. Some career opportunities probably aren’t even on your radar right now. Taking frequent risks will keep you from stagnating in your job. My own career is a unique tapestry of all the risks I’ve taken, most resulting in successful outcomes, but also just as important are the experiences that didn’t go as planned. Every risk attempted is a reminder of what you’re capable of and will build your professional confidence and competence. It will also help you discover the work that doesn’t quite fit.

2. Have the right gear and know how to use it

My experienced friends told me all I would need for the hike. I bought new boots, a fancy backpack with water bladder, and hiking poles. The poles were vital for the steepest parts of the hike. But even simple poles can pose problems if the telescoping sections get sand in them or the clamp screws loosen from repeated rock strikes. The water bladder mouthpiece wasn’t at all intuitive so my friend had to stop mid-descent to show me how to get the water to flow. The fancy backpack didn’t provide the promised easy access to my most needed supplies. And, well… you know the outcome of wearing the new boots.

Do you have the right gear for your job? Do you know how to use the gear that you have? I recently donated a shelf full of books that had been in my work pod for almost a decade. I needed to pack up my desk for a move which forced me to evaluate whether these resources were useful to me. While most were tangentially related to my job, I rarely looked at them. It’s important to regularly clear your gear to help lighten your physical and mental loads. Keep only those items you truly use at least monthly, and don’t take on additional items just because you think you might reference them someday.

3. Accept help when you need it

I totally bonked from the heat during our hike’s ascent. I needed to lie down on the trail to keep from passing out. I had to be doused with water and fed electrolytes and salt tablets. The temperature in the canyon valley was close to 100 degrees. My friends led me to shade, poured their water on my body’s pressure points, and also refused to let me carry my pack until I was feeling better. I felt ashamed and frustrated. How could I have let this happen and added to their burden? Despite that, I still needed their help.

Work is filled with times of stress, frustration, and burnout. Accepting help when it’s offered can be hard on one’s pride and cause concern about how you’re viewed by your colleagues. But don’t expect that shouldering the responsibility all by yourself will be recognized as heroic. Running yourself ragged is the worst thing you can do. Be honest when you need help. Be open to its offer. Not only do you benefit, so does your employer. We all achieve more when we seek and accept help, especially during those busy and stressful times.

4. Rely on your team for support

I like to joke that I would still be down in the canyon today if it weren’t for my team. But all joking aside, I truly needed them! They motivated me by singing old show tunes and Simon and Garfunkel songs, they carried my pack when I couldn’t, offered snacks for sharing, and made sure we all made it out safely. We found ways to utilize all of our strengths throughout the day. None of us could have done it without the others.

Do you have a work team you can rely on? If not, think about how you could build one. No one can or should go-it alone. Teams with diverse and committed membership will produce better outcomes and products than any one individual can achieve. Identify and use each other’s strengths to get results – together!

5. Keep moving forward

There’s a video of me during the last two miles of our ascent up Bright Angel Trail. I’m struggling to climb each step, my legs are wobbly and weak. I was stopping every 25 yards or so, until the waves of nausea passed, then I’d keep climbing. Finally, I was at the top on solid, flat ground!

Many times during your job and career, you will feel like you’re stuck waiting out your nausea on the side of an enormous mountain. The road is rough and you will question if you’re even on the right path. It’s normal to have these thoughts and experience times of uncertainty. Career reflection should occur regularly while hiking your career path. And when it gets hard, just keep putting one foot in front of the other, bruised toes and all.

Every life experience is ripe with opportunities for learning and growth. An epic Grand Canyon hike can definitely bring more than one’s fair share of lessons. Professional opportunities, like an epic hike, will bring rewards and confidence when you 1. Take the risk, 2. Have the right gear and know how to use it, 3. Accept help when you need it, 4. Rely on your team for support, and 5. Keep moving forward.

See you on the trail!

Kimberly Nuckles is part of the GovLoop Featured Contributor program, where we feature articles by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Contributor posts, click here.

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