12 Steps for Climbing to the Top of Your Career

by Denham, Thomas J. Friday, August 06, 2010
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I have been climbing mountains across this country for more than 30 years. There are plenty of analogies between climbing to the top of mountains and climbing to the top of your career. I recently returned from a successful summit of The Grand Teton in Wyoming. It was the most difficult and dangerous ascent of my career. Here are some lessons from the top.

1. Pick Your Peak Carefully. Be sure where you want to go is in alignment with your skills, values and interests. Do an exhaustive exploring all of your options. Maybe try an easy climb first, and build your confidence before packing for Mt. Everest. Make sure the mountain you choose matches who you are. It should the one that is the most meaningful to you.

2. Save Up. Climbing and career development are two expensive sports. It is important to have an emergency and/or educational fund, so when it’s time to make the right and deliberate moves, you are fully prepared.

3. Pack Up. Do your homework ahead of time. Bring a “Survival Kit” in case of emergency and pack great gear. We say, “There is no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing.” Prepare for the worst and hope for the best. Call for help if necessary. Make sure you “Cross Train” very hard to build up your skill sets. Don’t expect anyone to carry your backpack!

4. Hire a Guide. Find someone that is smarter and more experienced that you to help you get to the top. It’s too dangerous do these things alone. Be mentored. Be sure you talk over your strategy and communicate. Plan out the routes you will take.

5. Wake Up. The hardest part of climbing is getting out of your sleeping bag. It’s difficult to get out of your warm comfort zone. The biggest challenge in career development is waking up and realizing you have to be more proactive. Inertia is a career killer. A post-it note on my dresser read, “What will you do to train for The Grand Teton TODAY?” Ask yourself, “What incremental steps could I do TODAY to move my career plans forward. We call it “Chunking.” Sometimes reaching the summit is so overwhelming that it creates “Analysis Paralysis.” You’ll need to be mentally fit for this journey. I recommend that you set a micro-goal so small that it is impossible to fail. Just take the first step then put one foot in front of the other.

6. Rope Up. Make sure you are tied in to other people – a network of ropes will help you break your fall. Do you need to do more networking to protect yourself? Isn’t time to get more LinkedIn with your teammates? Tie your knots carefully.

7. Start Hiking Early. If you wait to late, you’ll be coming down in the dark. Get a jump on your goals now. Don’t delay!

8. Attitude Determines Altitude. How high you climb is up to you. There will be times when you are tempted to quit. Erase the tapes of negativity. You’ll need to persist in overcoming the rough terrain. If you don’t think you can do it, you’re right.

9. Look Up. Only focus on the on the summit; it will deaden any pain. Let the focus of your energy be on achieving your goals. Only look where you want to go – up. If you look down, you’re going to slip back. Stay on the trail or you’re going to get poison ivy or worse, you’ll fall off the cliff. The journey to the top of your career is going to get steep with plenty of barriers in your way. Never give up. Get help from your guide. Only visualize the summit – only visualize total success.

10. Look Out. Enjoy both the journey and the destination. The sacrifices you are making to get there will be well worth it. They call it the summit for a reason – it’s the high point. Ask yourself, “What would I like the high points of my career to be?” Be sure to hydrate and eat lunch and as you share the view with your “Dream Team.” Look down at how far you have come and how much you overcame to achieve it. Celebrate your success. If you’re lucky to climb, you’re lucky enough.

11. Go Big or Go Home. Next, start thinking about the other peaks that are on your “Bucket List.” Where do you want to go? What 5 to 10 things do you want to accomplish professionally? Jack Canfield once said, “Set a goal so high that if you achieve it, it will blow your mind.” You will never get out of shape if you are always preparing for your next peak. Dream Big!

12. If You Fall Down, Climb Out. Last year I fell 30 ft. down a 75 ft. crevasse on Mt. Rainier. I had two choices after I was rescued: 1) quit climbing or 2) make a come back. Remember: failure is not falling down, failure is staying down. This January, I made my climbing come back on a successful summit attempt of Mt. Washington during whiteout conditions. You can’t have a come back until you have had a set back. When the storms of life surround you, a compass and a guide can point you in the right direction. After reaching the summit of The Grand Teton at 13,770 ft., I checked that “BHAG” (Big Harry Audacious Goal) off my “Life List.” So, what are your personal and professional BHAGs that need to be checked off?

Tom’s Tip: Let your work and your life be The Grandest.