Are you playing a game called stupid?

I’ve just returned from an adventure vacation backpacking in the Enchantments Lakes area of Wenatchee National Forest, outside Levenworth, WA.  The Enchantment Lakes area is a high alpine basin full of lakes, larch, mountain goats, and fantastically stark granite that is considered by many to be the best hike in the state.  What a vista!

Our group had planned on three days and two nights in this amazing venue, however, the weather had different plans for us.  On day two as we were breaking down the camp and loading up our gear, it began sleeting!  This was to be our most challenging day as we were to cross Aasgard Pass.  We could see Aasgard Pass from our campsite and realized that snow was beginning to accumulate.  Aasgard Pass offers a 2,200 foot rise in elevation in less than a mile.  This section is a rock/boulder field, which becomes extremely slick when covered with sleet and snow.  Over breakfast, we did an honest assessment of our situation and considering the weather as well as the 40-50 pounds we were carrying on our backs, our level and training for these conditions and our lack of winter clothing, we determined it best to turn back down the mountain and take refuge in the quaint Bravarian style town.  While we were disappointed not to finish our trip as planned, we did finish alive — and felt very smart about our decision.

This experience made me think about how these life lessons can be used in our professional lives.  I’ve seen people make some bad decisions because they didn’t do an honest assessment of their capabilities and took on responsibilities they were ill-equipped to handle.  I’m all for stretch assignments and doing things that broaden our comfort zone, but when you oversell your capability and then don’t ask for help when realizing you’re over your head, simply put, you are playing a game called stupid.  Here are some tips to remember so you don’t find yourself in this position:

  1. Know thyself – ask for feedback, talk to those you know your work best and gain an understanding of your strengths and areas for development.  You may even go back to your previous performance appraisal to reflect on your most recent performance evaluation.
  2. Let your boss know about your career aspirations and discuss what skills/knowledge are needed to achieve that next promotion.
  3. Do things to close the skill/experience gaps.  This can be done through various ways such as, more challenging assignment/expanding your scope, taking a lead role in a turn-around situation or participate on a highly visible task force.
  4. Ask for help and seek out opportunities to learn from others – it’s always good to keep a dose of humility close at hand.
  5. Under promise and over deliver – set expectations appropriately with others and ask questions to ensure you understand what others are expecting from you.

Remember these and you’ll be more likely to avoid slippage in your career, and instead, find yourself at the summit of your career.