“At times, our own light goes out and is rekindled by a spark from another person. Each of us has cause to think with deep gratitude of those who have lighted the flame within us.”
– Albert Schweitzer
Shoot for the stars.
The sky is the limit.
We are encouraged throughout life to set our sights high – that anything is possible if you keep looking and moving up.
The reality is that our professional path is not linear. We all experience highs and lows. We elevate when individuals open doors for us.
Most of our time is spent working in the middle, partnering with colleagues rich in experience who are willing to help us understand the work and culture. We all need colleagues who nurture us and help us get on the right path. Getting launched begins at the ground level. The flame within us often gets lit by someone else.
A space shuttle relies on solid rocket boosters to provide thrust during the first two minutes of flight. Without this force, the spacecraft cannot resist the gravitational pull of earth, and a successful orbit in space would not be possible. These powerful forces at the bottom of the shuttle expend their fuel, fall away and get recovered and reused.
Our professional lives need boosters as well, and they appear in all levels of the organization. As we move onto new duties, they fall away and are reused by others. What we do every day has the imprint of our boosters on our work.
Think of a booster in your career – what did they do for you and where are they now? My boosters along the way included administrative assistants, first-line supervisors, and of course Bill.
My first professional job after college was as a management trainee for a very large organization. On my first day at work after graduating from college, my supervisor forgot I was starting and shuffled me over to my desk. Lucky for me, a co-worker came over and sat down next to me. Bill reassured me I would be fine, and he personally would make sure I “learned the ropes”.
Bill was my lifesaver and convinced me I should stay with the company. What did Bill teach me?
- Learn your craft – build your credibility by rolling up your sleeves and mastering your job.
- Respect those who support you – administrative assistants are great teachers.
- As you climb the ladder, don’t forget the hard-working people on the front line.
His ambition was never to move up – he wanted to make sure the leaders he developed never forgot where they started.
The singer Bob Marley has a song “Bend Down Low”:
“Bend down low, let me tell you what I know.”
It isn’t always what we know – it is what they know. As we adjust our sights to include all associates in our organization, we hear what we need to hear. We always miss what we ignore or dismiss.
Three keys to remember on your professional journey:
Manage Your Sightlines
Good sightlines allow spectators to see all areas of a venue stage or field of play. Stadiums are constructed to provide views from high and low. We also establish sightlines at work, where we focus our attention. Where is your seat located? Don’t get caught in an obstructed view.
Turn the organization chart upside down. Reallocate your time to connect with others on the front-line. Your perspective widens and deepens when you change the voices around you.
Regularly check in with those who helped you get where you are, as well as those who support your current success. I personally use recurring calendar appointments, often scheduling a call every two months. This keeps me grounded to both past and present – a blend of wisdom, learning, and human connection.
Climbing the professional ladder can detach us from reality. We can get absorbed with power, titles, and an echo chamber of admirers. Sometimes to move forward we need to look back. Our boosters, yesterday and today, deserve our attention and respect. Remember where you started – bend down low and ask others what they know.
All My Best,