What do Mountain Skills and Career Skills have in common?

career skills Aug 24, 2020

As we approached the summit, at 22, 209 feet, the cloud closed in and the view disappeared. As we stepped onto the top of the highest mountain in Peru, all we could see was the inside of a cloud.

It was the culmination of a four-week expedition to climb Huascaran.

Preparation had taken months and built on years of experience. Even on the expedition there had been highs and lows, moments of elation as we summited acclimatisation peaks or chatted with locals in high mountain villages, and of near devastation as altitude sickness hit, or we struggled to find a way through the high ice falls.

I had no idea then, that those physical expeditions into remote places would provide such a wonderful analogy for the careers work I do now.

Each expedition calls on all of your previous experience to date, as well as on preparation, planning and action during the actual trip. Careers follow a similar pattern.

I started building my mountaineering skills on family holidays where we walked the easy paths up Snowdon and furthered them on the Tors of the Peak District.

Scouts and particularly Venture Scouts taught me map reading, camping and mountaineering skills and introduced me to the wonders of winter mountains and the higher peaks of The Alps. They also gave me a lot of great career skills: teamwork, independence, leadership, decision making, critical thinking, planning, and so forth.

These were the skills and experiences that built my confidence and allowed me to contemplate greater things; to entertain dreams of things that I had no idea how to make happen. 

My first dream was to see Everest for myself and to experience the mountains of the Himalayas. A chance meeting with a friend in a pub who showed us pictures of her trip to Nepal, inspired me and another friend to organise our own expedition to Nepal. We flew in past Everest and trekked to Annapurna base camp where we were surrounded by 8000m peaks.

It was, I thought, a once in a lifetime trip. But achieving that goal inspired me to think what else might be possible. Perhaps to climb a major peak? To take part in a “proper expedition” as I would have called it back then. Still, it was just an idea, a dream. But, a couple of years later I chanced across the opportunity to join an expedition to climb Mount Elbrus in Russia. At over 18,000ft it is the highest mountain in Europe. 

A habit was forming here.

One “Once in a lifetime” experience leading to another “Once in a lifetime” experience

I went on to travel to India and Ladakh, the Tien Shan, Tibet and both polar regions, taking part in mountain expeditions and remote journeys in some of the most stunning places on earth.

And that wasn’t even my full-time career.

My career was what was funding it. At the time I was initially a cartographer and subsequently a computer systems developer, neither of which job titles described who I was or who I am. 

That’s the thing. Your job title is not who you are.

I hope it’s aligned with who you are and what you want to achieve, and I hope that you really enjoy it, but it is the thing that pays for your lifestyle.

As I moved into Career Coaching in 2001, it quickly became apparent that all of these past things, and perhaps particularly the expeditioning, contributed to this new career.

As you gain more experience in the mountains, you pick up practical skills such as those in lightweight remote camping, using ropes and ice-axes, reading and interpreting maps. These are the equivalent of the skills you acquire during your career. You might not use them all on every expedition in the same way that you might not use all your skills in every step of your career, but they are there, ready to be polished and honed when you do need them again. 

At least half, if not more, of anyone’s success on an expedition is about their mindset and attitude, their resilience in difficulties and ability to look at things in different ways, to face challenges and to give themselves the best chance of success. This, I have observed, is also true of people’s careers. 

Expeditions are also about the team. Understanding what your contributions are to the success of the team, being able to let others lead in their areas of expertise, whilst taking responsibility and being prepared to lead in your own. 

It’s not just what you contribute to the expedition though.

Knowing your own personal motivation for doing it is just as important and the more you understand the detail and nuances of that, the greater enjoyment you can get from the expedition. The goal might be to reach a certain peak, but enjoying the journey is equally important.

I would say that in terms of enjoying an expedition, knowing how you contribute and what you want to get from it are the most fundamental parts, the foundation stones if you like. In the same way, those who know these things about their career are set up for success and fulfilment.

As we stepped onto that cloudy summit it could, I guess, have been a moment of misery at the loss of the view. But it wasn’t for two key reasons.

First and most obviously, we were on the summit of the highest mountain in Peru and it was the highest point I had reached. And also, because that wasn’t the be-all and end-all of my expeditionary experience. It was a moment in time on an amazing expedition. It gave me skills to go on back to the Himalayas, into the Arctic and Antarctic, and elsewhere. And who would have thought it, a basis for me writing to you all these years later. 

The point is that when you reach points in your career where the way forward isn’t clear, if you’ve got the skills, you can decide where to go next and enjoy every career journey you make. That’s why I’m on a journey to create a world where everyone has those skills, and why I launched The Career Base Camp, as a part of that mission. 

You can join at www.davecordle.co.uk/careerbasecamp to learn and maintain all the skills you need to go to work with a smile on your face and manage your career in the way you wan to.

So, over to you:

-    What’s your greatest career expedition so far?

-    What’s the goal you’ve got for your career, either short term, long term, or both?

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