My mentor Jim Lawrence inspired this cartoon with an insight he shared recently that a career is more like riding a trapeze than climbing a ladder. Most careers are not rung-by-rung linear paths. Instead, they involve a series of flying leaps, not knowing whether those leaps will take you up, down, or sideways. Or if you’ll miss the trapeze altogether. Or if there’s even a net.
It takes courage to take each leap. And patience when you’re not headed the direction you’d like.
When I started at General Mills after business school, there was too much focus on the career ladder and your place on it. Promotions were awarded based on seniority. The best performer in your class was always in line behind the worst performer in the class ahead. No matter your past experience, you started at the bottom and climbed. It was a great place to learn. It was also a source of frustration whenever the career ladder slowed (which inspired this cartoon in 2003).
One of the entrepreneurs I admire most is David Hieatt, who founded the Welsh clothing company howies, sold it to Timberland, and made the hard decision to leave this last October:
“From this day forward howies will begin to appear in my rear-view mirror. At the same time I will be sitting in my shed with Sonny (my dog) working away on the future. Keeping me company will be the knowledge that Patagonia was not Yvon’s first company, Esprit was not Doug’s first company, and Steve Jobs got sacked from Apple. For me those are good role models to have in the shed with you.”
David started a blog a few weeks ago to chronicle his soul-searching as he takes this next leap of faith. I find his journey incredibly inspiring.
“It’s called a leap of faith for a good reason. It’s a risk. And the outcome is far from certain. And that is why we tend to put off these life-changing decisions. Say ‘what the hell’ and jump. And hope you can build some wings on the way down.”