Backpacking Your Way to the Top!

I used to do a lot of backpacking when I was younger and I’ve noticed that there are a lot of similarities between climbing a mountain and climbing the career “mountain.”

Our career, like climbing a mountain, is a journey for which we must prepare.  We must pack our backpacks with the right tools for the trip if we want to get to the top.  We must put the right things in the right pockets and ditch the things that just weigh us down.  It’s about gathering and sorting the tools that are important in helping us along the way.  So how do you know what things to pack that will get you to the top? Proper gathering and sorting is a learned skill and it will make your path less rugged with fewer detours.  And, the tools you gather for the journey will be used throughout your life. 

What should you pack? 

Your journey up the “mountain” begins very early in life.  Family plays a big role in shaping our values and beliefs and helping us to form our drive to reach the top.  My father was a great encourager and taught me to work hard, to use my manners, to choose my words carefully, and to learn from every opportunity and challenge that I faced.  He also taught me that I would be good at the things I practiced.  If I was rude, I would get better at being rude. If I was positive, I would get better at being positive. He showed me that it was my choice to be negative, kind, fun or whatever I wanted to be and that I need to choose wisely.  The values you gain from your family are a critical tool needed to reach your ultimate destination.  These are the first things you will put in your backpack.

As you grow into adulthood, the things that you’ve learned and what you know becomes even more important.   As the saying goes, we are the sum total of all that we know.  Yet, it’s not just what we know, it’s what we decide is valuable to know. You need to decide what information is valuable for your journey.  Just think about what you know about your health, your job, your finances, and your relationships – all are important areas in which to have knowledge. Determine the “valuable” information that will help you succeed as you climb the mountain.  Valuable knowledge is the next thing that you will include in your backpack. 

Where do you get the knowledge you need?

  • Your own personal experiences!  All of life is a classroom. We all have successes or things we have done well. Practice those skills till you become proficient and they become second nature. Even greater opportunities for learning come from “failures.” We have all done something wrong or not achieved a goal.  Did you learn from that experience?  Of course you did – we all do when we review and consider alternatives that could have helped us achieve success!  Pack those experiences and their lessons into your backpack for the climb.
  • Others’ experiences!  All you have to do is look around at what is going on in the world. There are many examples of failures and many great examples of successes at every turn. Learning from those in your circles of influence will help you to succeed in your journey.  Study the great successes of those you admire and even of those you may not admire – there are unlimited examples for you to study!  Just look around!
  • Learning by reading!  One of the greatest ways to reach the top of your field of interest is by reading.  A learner is a reader. Today it is easier than ever to find books that will help you in your personal and professional development.  Purchase a notebook (electronic or paper) and fill it with ideas, notes and other valuable information that you’re learning.  A great way to learn is to write it down, then share it with others who are on the climb with you.  

A word of caution – be careful about what you put into your mind.  The mind is a very powerful catalyst that can help us achieve our goals. What you read is a form of training your mind which some refer to as “mind conditioning.” So you want to read things that will positively condition and fuel your mind to support you on your journey. 

I had a professor in college that I kept in touch with over the years. In his later years, I would visit him in the nursing home and often found him in a deep sleep.  He had a note above his bed that said “if into my room you creep, and find me sound asleep, please wake me so we can chat,” so I would wake him.  After gathering his senses he would inevitably (and always) ask me, “What are you reading and who are you sharing it with?”  He taught me that what you read today is important, because it impacts tomorrow and that you should share this with others. I am thankful for the life lessons he provided me, especially this example!

So for all of us on our career journey, think about what you are learning in life along the way, what you are sharing along the way, and how you are helping others in their journey.  In your backpack, include the important things that help you to develop into the person you want to be.

Life happens! As we go through life’s journey, we sometimes need a friend, a coach, a mentor,   a team to help us along the way.  My executive coach helps me to learn new life skills that I pack away in my backpack.  When I share what I’ve learned in my life with others, I pass along a few nuggets that hopefully they can include in their backpacks and this gives me great joy.  We need each other in life’s journey and it’s amazing how that principle of paying it forward helps everyone get to the top of the mountain. 

I would love to hear what’s in your backpack and about your journey up the mountain. 

See you at the top!

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  1. Russ Knight's avatar
    Russ Knight
    | Permalink
    I've spent a year of my life in a tent.

    Four four summers I worked at Philmont as a Ranger or guide for the Boy Scouts in the mountains of NE New Mexico.

    When groups of scouts - crews - would arrive one of the preparation excercises we would go through is a shakedown. We sort through everyone's gear to see what they need or don't. Growing up in scouting, the lore of the shakedown was fearful. They won't let you take this or that!

    The reality is you could carry rocks if you wanted. Some people wanted to take a Coke to have at the top of a mountain.

    Most of the time in your career you will rarely get advice about what to take or which way to turn, unless you seek that out intentionally. You need to choose what to take, how to grow and where to seek counsel.
  2. Chuck OBrien's avatar
    Chuck OBrien
    | Permalink
    I actually have a candidate now who was a world famous and renown rock climber and has quite a reputation in Yosemite National Park and is one of the few people who have climbed the face of ElCapitan. We have often spoken about the lessons he learned there that have been transfered to his illustrious business career--be careful of every move, always remember where you are and who you are, the process you use determines if you will reach your goal, attitude is critical. Your analolgy is a good one and atttested to by my candidate.
  3. Travis Jones's avatar
    Travis Jones
    | Permalink
    Thanks Chuck for sharing about your candidate and his experiences. Yosemite is one of the most beautiful places in the world. I went there on my honeymoon in 1972 and again 40 years later. Where we stayed in Yosemite Village - the cabins have been closed because of falling rocks from the cliffs above. It reminded us that looking at where we have been, changes with time. New paths and ways are part of our life journey.
    By the way those little cabins were pretty primitive compared to the places we stayed at on our 40th anniversary. It was a blast retracing our history, but glad we had a new destination for the night.
  4. Larry Evans's avatar
    Larry Evans
    | Permalink
    I was touched by the continued relationship with the professor and his question:“What are you reading and who are you sharing it with?” Life is about reading/learning and then sharing for the betterment of our fellow beings.

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