CareerSherpas: Climbing the Mountain

When you’re on the way, it helps to share the load

Archive for August, 2011

Think for Yourself

Monday, August 29th, 2011
Survival in organizations often requires an interesting set of skills, many of which fly in the face of our regular daily lives. Sometimes those survival techniques are actually hurting you and the companies you work for.
One “skill” that I’ve seen at work quite a bit in service organizations is ┬áthe ability to follow patterns of behavior without question. The ability to accept whatever decisions are handed down from on high as correct – even if no rational person would agree!
While I can see where this comes from (sometimes following the company script is important) it doesn’t really hold up to scrutiny for daily work. Processes can, and should, be improved. Solving problems that slow everyone down is worthwhile. Companies are under pressure to move faster and innovate better, but at the crux of the matter if you’re being asked not to think then your company is suffering along with you.
Challenging management who are asking (commanding) that you not share ideas or share information about the realities of your work isn’t always a possibility. So what can you do to prevent yourself becoming a drone?
First, think for yourself. Even if you have to keep it to yourself to start with, take notes of what improvements you see and the things that don’t make sense.
Next, take the time to find an open ear. If it isn’t your manager, it’s time to get creative. Listen to the way co-workers discuss issues. Start to find people in other departments to make friends with who might be able to help or who might have other channels for sharing information.
Finally, ask to be included on improvement projects. Those projects are going on in most organizations and even when they don’t work they’re a great way of getting exposed to people who habitually fix things. Generally, anyone whose job is to help solve problems also talks to the people who decide which problems to fix.
Remember that the most critical successes come from innovations, most of which will be small changes. Make sure you’re looking for opportunities to improve and finding channels to get your insights out.

Peter Fitzgerald is the founder of and is currently working on his first book, connecting individuals with ideas and opportunities, and attempting to learn the bagpipes.

Pick Your Battles

Monday, August 22nd, 2011

Struggles abound, but are the ones you’re facing the important ones right now?

When you’re faced with a problem, what do you do? For myself I’m a “fixer”. The guy who likes nothing better than digging in and solving problems. But what if the number of problems are overwhelming?

At their core problems, or opportunities for those who like the “positive politically correct” translation, are situations where someone can picture a better situation. Often a problem doesn’t exist on its own but is linked to two or three others, which in turn are connected to more. Digging to the bottom of the pile you will come to a point where there is something fundamental that needs to change.

Whether you have the ability to fix or influence someone else to fix an issue will often mean walking into a web of politics and emotional attachments that make a simple fix impossible. When faced with this, there is a choice that isn’t always obvious but that will always be made: Is this something I’m going to fight for?

What kind of mountain are you trying to climb? Is it a mountain where the cliffs are steep, slick and slippery? Do you have the support to face it? Do you get to decide to climb this mountain or does someone else?

All of these questions and more have to be carefully weighed. Sometimes just going around the mountain to have the energy and resources to climb a bigger one beyond is the right thing to do. Sometimes not clearing a roadblock gives you the ability to move beyond it to solve more important concerns.

Have you asked yourself if what you’re fighting with now really helps you? Are you going to improve something by continuing along a path or are you just being stubborn?

Take the time to reassess something you’re stuck on today and see if it really is as important at it looks when you’re in the thick of it.

Peter Fitzgerald is the founder of and is currently working on his first book, connecting individuals with ideas and opportunities, and attempting to learn the bagpipes.

The Road of Trials

Monday, August 15th, 2011

As we emerge from the depths of the initial struggle, tasks appear that help transform the viewpoint and the person into their next effective form. So too does the heroine’s path lead through trials to move them to an enlightened state.

Fluffy stuff aside, we all go through trials. Tests and trials are rights of passage and doors to new life stages. Whether we’re sitting high school exams or college finals, or engaged in an apprenticeship our mental models are being challenged and tested as much as our knowledge or skills.

Making these mental shifts let us migrate into a new sense of ourselves and prove to everyone that we have what it takes. Developing a variety of mental models lets us be flexible in solving problems. We can academically learn about new models all the time, but sometimes to really understand the benefits of the mental model in a concrete way takes being at a loss and being challenged to use a new way of thinking.

Sometimes proving to ourselves that we are competent to do something is the only part of the challenge with any meaning. The struggle lets us see that we can accomplish the “next great step”. Each time we face down a right of passage we come out of it changed.

Professionally, taking on a role that we haven’t done before often challenges our sense of worth. It’s common that people feel like they’re “faking it” until a challenge comes, is met and passed. That challenge tests us and makes us draw on elements of ourselves that we weren’t expecting to find. The confidence that follows brings out new possibilities and new ways of approaching problems learnt from the struggles.

Taking an example from the personal life side, dealing with death is a clear stage that all of us will face eventually. Particularly dealing with the death of someone close to us forces us to challenge what we think about life. It’s a common experience that this grim context gives a different perspective and offers a chance to break old ways of being. Individuals often get an opportunity to consider how they’ve used their own lives and to relish the gifts left by the deceased. New appreciation for lessons learned and wisdom left behind come back with truths we might have missed.

Whatever the trial, whatever the right of passage, reaching beyond gives us more opportunities, a greater sense of self and new insights into ourselves.

Grab hold of the challenges and take yourself on to bigger and better things!

Peter Fitzgerald is the founder of and is currently working on his first book, connecting individuals with ideas and opportunities, and attempting to learn the bagpipes.