Who Is Your Ground Buddy?

A couple years ago, I was one of the adult volunteers who took a bunch of teenagers out for a weekend of camping and adventure.  On this particular trip, they went to the Challenge Course, a series of outdoor problem-solving and team-building exercises that culminates in a 200’ long walk, 35’ feet in the air.  Each of the teenagers gets to take this high rope walk, and it’s the highlight of the weekend.  In addition to two safety harnesses, each high-wire walker is assigned a ground buddy for the duration of their walk. 

The ground buddy is told that their job is to watch the walker, warn them about what’s coming up next, encourage them, and most importantly to never take their eyes off the walker until they are safely back on the ground.   The walker is so focused on the details – where to put their foot next, how to reach the next handhold – that they can’t see what’s coming up next, or the bigger picture of how far they have come. 

I have a great photo of one of the kids, 35’ in the air on that thin rope, with nothing but tree tops all around him, and have used this image many times in my career development talks.  I think we all need a ground buddy for our career – someone who can see the bigger picture, can tell us what to reach for next, points out how far we have come, and encourages us to take the next step. 

Do you have someone like this in your life, and especially in your career?  If you do, good for you!  Take that person out to lunch every few months, and talk about what’s new or different in your home and personal life, and how that affects your personal career trajectory.

If not, do you try to do some of this yourself? Do you step back on a regular basis and take stock of where you are, and where your current career trajectory is taking you?  Do you seek out advice from people who’ve been where you are now? 

If no one comes immediately to mind, you have some thinking to do.  Who in your network might have valuable life experience to share with you?  Is there someone you admire who is further along in the career you want to have, and might they be willing to share some of their experiences with you?  Most people are more than willing to help, and are flattered to be asked about their own career. 

You may have more than one person, who share different aspects of your professional life.  For example, I have some people I go to for help with technical documentation questions, but others for running a business questions.  Everyone has different areas of expertise – and you may even be able to offer answers on another subject to those who are answering questions for you.  

And that’s a good point – while you’re thinking about who can help you, don’t forget to think about who you can help.  While unsolicited advice is not always appreciated, do you make yourself approachable by those early in their careers? We all know that the best way to really learn something is to teach it to someone else, and sometimes explaining to someone else how and why you did things can make you stop and think about why you really did it that way.  You just might learn something about yourself in the process. 

 This article was written by Lisa M. Balbes, Ph.D. of Balbes Consultants LLC.  Lisa is a technical writer/editor and author of: “Nontraditional Careers for Chemists,” published by Oxford University Press.

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