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A Career is Not a Marathon

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It's a Mountain Climb It's a Mountain Climb

A career is not a marathon. Nor is it a series of sprints. In fact, track analogies are relatively unhelpful. A successful track star runs on known terrain with a known distance and normally wins or loses by small fractions. Comparing a business career to a career of mountain climbing is more like it. There are many peaks to choose from and many challenges and setbacks along the way. No two mountain climbing careers are alike. The goal of getting to the top is easily stated, but success can only be achieved step by step with discipline, training and perseverance.

Ed Viesturs was the first American to climb the fourteen highest mountains in the world over 8000 meters (26,250 ft) tall.  All without the help of oxygen.  He is one of the most accomplished high altitude mountain climbers of all time.  Some of his peaks were won through dogged determination.  It took him three trys to get to the top of Mt Everest.  

A very cautious climber, on his second try, Viesturs came within 300 ft of the peak of Everest before deciding he had to turn back. He was almost swept off of K2 by an avalanche and was lucky to survive, but persevered.  

Some of the climbs came easily and he set records for getting to the top and back in minimal time. Viesturs says you can never climb a big mountain by focusing on how far it is to the top. You can only climb the highest peaks if you break them down into a segment at a time.  When he was the most exhausted, he would focus on a rock 30-40 feet away as his next objective.  When he got to that rock, he would choose a new objective just ahead and thus break a big mountain climb down into a manageable series of short climbs.

A career is not a marathon. A career is more like a series of mountain climbs.  There are many possible goals to pursue and you must choose your path.  You can aim high, but it can be intimidating to focus on the long term goals.  Focusing on shorter term goals and achievments that are in line with your longer term aspriations is the best way to be successful.   

The Five Big Lessons of a Mountain Climbing Career:

  1. Preparation and training are a prerequisite to success (only the very fit make the top).
  2. Initial goals are likely to be near and reasonable (climbing a local mountain).
  3. Longer term goals can be audacious (climbing all fourteen of the highest peaks), though the path to success is entirely uncertain.
  4. Setbacks and even disaster are common and must be overcome with determination.
  5. Focus on a near term objective in front of you and turn a tall mountain to a series of short climbs.

Ed Viesturs' highly recommended 2007 biography is "No Shortcuts to the Top: Climbing the World 's 14 Highest Peaks."

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Ted Pryor
Ted Pryor
Ted Pryor is a Managing Director with Greenwich Harbor Partners and focuses on senior level executive recruiting in Media, Technology and Business Services including general management, sales, marketing and customer service. He has over ten years of experience as a senior executive at GE Capital and over 20 years of experience in corporate finance. Prior to executive recruiting, he served as CFO and CEO of a venture backed start-up company.

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