Career Exercises

You need to get away to get back home. strong business man is raising a dumbbell

The past few weeks I’ve been exploring my work – my career – by leaving its quotidian rhythm behind. I’ve traveled, I’ve met new people, I’ve explored. And such exploration brought me deeper to what I had begun a few years ago. I realize now, though, that such grounding could not have happened if I had stayed physically and perceptually put.

The first venture enticed me to travel across the country to attend Wisdom 2.0, an event dedicated to answering the question “How can we live with wisdom, awareness and compassion in the digital age?” For those of us ensconced in a view of life as concrete and future oriented, it was extraordinary to sit with 2,000 people focused on now. I don’t mean now in terms of today, I mean now in terms of this moment, this feeling of presence in body and mind. I slowed down amidst a sea of incredible energy. Energy that was open and friendly and focused on moving forward gently.

Each night I was there, I slept soundly. Each day, I encountered every stranger as if I had known them for years, and in doing so met people who blew past the acquaintance stage and into friendship readily. Of equal reward was the discovery of where I want to take my business. I had been falling into a viewpoint based on projects, revenue, scope. I was growing, yes, but also tightly bound by what could be quantified.

It was in the middle of a presentation by Jonathan Rosenfeld of Medium that the first deep moment arrived. I am sure that if I had sat at my desk for hours, pondering where I wanted to take my work, it would not have come. There was something electric about being in a new environment that let me tap into a new perspective. I wrote this viewpoint, completely formed and flowing, in the small notebook I carried with me that weekend.  What was it? A simultaneous re-grounding in what I had set out to build when I started Elysian Communications and an expanded view of where I wanted it to go. My new North Star.

The second deep moment occurred at home. The travel this time was in the mind, a reflective exercise lead by one of my coaching instructors. I joined my wonderful cadre of friends and coaching colleagues in our program’s last conference call. The topic was the business of coaching yet our instructor took us in another direction. He brought us back in time to bring us forward.

“Take out a piece of paper,” he instructed. “Plot a graph with zero at the midpoint of the page, the X-axis running +5 above and -5 below the midpoint and the Y-axis marked for time. Now, plot your best and worst career experiences over time, on a scale of +5 to -5. Mark each standout experience clearly.”

I followed suit, carefully plotting every high and low, describing each with a word or two. What started to evolve on the page was a graphical record of my triumphs and failures. I had let all these experiences start to blur over the years, remembering some with great clarity but only perceiving them in total as a string of unassociated points in time. What I now saw was a pattern of greater highs than lows, steady progress and a growing desire to build my career into a life’s work.

Here’s what I also learned, studying this crudely made collection of dots on a graph: my best work happens in situations where there is more collaboration, more creativity and more control (mine or that of my team). I call these my “Three C’s.”

Two weeks prior to this exercise, at Wisdom 2.0, I articulated my revised North Star. At this moment, I learned how to make it hum.

A career map can be limiting if one doesn’t occasionally put it aside. Too much focus on charting a course in advance cuts off one’s ability to discover the outlets and expressions that can never be planned for; too little focus and that string of experiences is bound together in the most fragile of fashions. I had little idea that attending a conference and participating in a call would open me to a deeper understanding of my goals. But they did. They were the best, and most organic, career exercises I’ve ever done.

Which brings me back to where I started: Sometimes the best way to find your career home is to get away from it for a little while.





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