When I was in Grade 7 and struggling with junior high French, my parents sat down with Madame Bouvert, mon professeur, and discussed my effort. The combined determination was that I wasn’t performing anywhere within my potential, that I could work much harder.
It takes work to climb, Madame Bouvert concluded. The only way you can coast is to head downhill.
I was reminded of that as I returned to classes on the Royal Roads University campus in Victoria, British Columbia. The campus is located in a sheltered bay along the Pacific coastline, which means any time you want to leave its environs you have to climb. I quickly determined as I attempted some exercise on my bicycle this climbing requirement holds true no matter which direction you go, unless, of course, you head out to sea.
And, to paraphrase Billy Bob Thorton, “It’s a big-ass hill” — no matter which direction you go.
For the first few days, I struggled to get off campus, huffing and puffing my way out of the bay until the going finally leveled out and I could settle into some more comfortable climbing. I returned home with my legs aching and my lungs burning, but this sensation soon gave way to a satisfaction and calm that seemed to soothe my tired limbs. It was a great feeling to settle into some academic work knowing I had looked after my physical self.
So what does this have to do with the office environment? Here are my thoughts:
Just like climbing a hill takes some effort, so does getting ahead in the workplace. That means if you have designs on getting ahead, you’re going to have to do more than just bide your time. You’re going to have to do some work, work that builds the “muscle” you need to lead others. You can only coast downhill so long — even the longest slope eventually bottoms out.
The trail is more fun if you take along some friends. There’s a reason people exercise in groups. It provides support, accountability and structure. Not only do you have to show up every morning, but climbing a hill seems that much easier when you have friends on either side of you sharing the struggle. Working with a group can also help you improve. You can pick up the pace, push yourself a bit more and learn from others — even as they learn from you.
Taking a break is OK. The first couple of times I hit the hills in our home community of Osoyoos, I had to stop several times to catch my breath and rest my weary legs. But I found if I stopped for just a few moments, the strength returned quite quickly and I could bite off another chunk of hill before stopping again. So it is in the office: taking a break now and then rests your weary mind and perks you up to tackle another chunk of whatever problem or task you’re trying to get atop.
Occasionally I take a day off to really give my body a rest. The office equivalent is the two-week vacation. Get away from your work; I promise when you return the hill will still be there — and you’ll find it much easier to climb.
Track your progress. I can attach a GPS unit to my bicycle and track my route, distance travelled and speed. This information goes into software on my computer and not only provides me with a record of where I’ve been but also how well I did getting there. As well, I can share the information with others who might have an interest, or requirement, to travel the same trail I’ve already travelled. In the office, tracking your daily work gives you a record of not only what you’ve accomplished but how you’re improving as you progress. Not only are you tracking accomplishments — and they tend to become a blur as time passes — you’ll also note efficiencies, improve your ability to schedule and estimate time commitments and better understand your job responsibilities.
Many of us look at climbing the hill as a bit of a chore and something to be avoided. But struggling upwards builds muscle and character. Think about that the next time you’re handed a work project that really tasks your abilities.