I recently decided to try rock climbing and found that the lessons I learned that day were the same ones I've unconsciously used to progress in my career.
Step 1: Find a Great Belayer (Coach)
Given that it was my first time rock climbing, I found myself trying to figure out which out of the 5 belayers would provide me the encouragement I needed to climb up the rocks.
A belayer is the person that keeps the rope locked off in the belay device whenever the climber is not moving. This role is important because he or she would be the one to ensure you don't fall down the rocks and seriously hurt yourself.
The first time I went up was quite scary because the guy who was my belayer was not paying attention to anything I was doing and was more concerned with the ladies around him. It was only until I slipped and started to freefall that he started to focus on helping me.
Let's say I was not impressed with him and decided to go find another belayer that would work better with me. And, I did. Scott was fantastic. He provided the right level of coaching and helped guide me to the right spots so that I could pull myself up the rocks. Similar to the working world, having a great coach to make sure you don’t fall but gain confidence in your abilities is important to progress.
Step 2: Have a Support System
Fortunately, I had a few friends that wanted to try out rock climbing with me. All of us struggled on different levels of rock climbing but right when you think you couldn’t go any further, we started to cheer each other to help motivate the person to keep going.
In other words, it’s your closest peers that will help support you in meeting your objectives. Some skeptics may not agree with this but I would rather have someone I think is great get the promotion than someone who I think didn’t deserve it.
Step 3: Be Resourceful
Climbing to the top doesn’t always mean that you get there by only go up and it doesn’t always mean you will go up as fast as the person next to you. I realized this when I decided to do a chimney climb, which means that I decided to rock climb a rock cleft that’s large enough to fit a climber’s body. Think of chimney except instead of brick there is a rock slab in front and behind you.
I’m not the most physically fit person but knowing that there was someone else down further from me also do the same climb, I felt an unconscious desire to compete. You know...see who can get to the top the fastest.
Needless to say, I did everything to climb up as fast as I could between the two slabs of rock. I did a vertical worm dance – where I was literally worming up the rocks. I did a vertical crawl to see if that could get me up fast.
In the end, I couldn’t go fast but with patience and A LOT of breaks, I was able to make it to the top. Progressing your career is similar, some of us specialize in one area and are able to move up fast and others, decide to diversify our experience resulting in a lateral career growth. In the end, if you really want it, it will happen.
Step 4: Be Focused - Know Where You Are Going
After spending the whole morning rock climbing, we moved onto spending the afternoon propelling down cliffs. Nothing really prepares you to trust a skinny piece of rope, when you're propelling down a few hundred feet.
My best friend was really scared and when it was her turn to go over the edge and lean back with legs straight and feet against the rock, she looked at me and all I remember saying to her was “it’s ok, you’ll be fine”. A level of peace and confidence rushed backed into her and she propelled down slowly.
She was so focused on looking up that she forgot to look down at the tree she was going to propel herself onto. Fortunately, she was warned that she was about to sit on a tree and was able move away to get down safely.
In short, progressing within a company is similar to rock climbing. It’s important to have great mentors and surround yourself with people that want to see you succeed. Also, keep in mind that moving up may mean that you move laterally. Just make sure that you know what you are getting yourself into; otherwise, you may be propelling onto a tree.
Would love to hear what you have to say. Let me know your experiences on how you have progressed in your career.
Bernardo Tirado, PMP @thePMObox
Bernardo covers leadership and technology for PsychologyToday.com. In addition to being an industrial psychologist, he’s certified as a Six Sigma Blackbelt, Project Management Professional, Body Language Expert, and is a Train-the-Trainer in Analytical Interviewing.