Throughout my professional journey, I’ve discovered a lot about both commutes and careers. Here are four lessons I’ve learned, both behind the desk and behind the wheel:
1. Calculate Risks instead of Avoiding them Altogether
Sometimes taking a risk pays off, but it should be properly calculated ahead of time. Sometimes, merging from the on-ramp or gunning for that open gap on the interstate will get you moving in the flow of traffic and get you to where you’re going. Other times, it will get your back bumper rear-ended. Sometimes, speaking up about a project or trying out a new initiative will be beneficial and lucrative. Sometimes, it will flop, or worse—backfire. Don’t avoid risks altogether, but make sure you have carefully weighed the circumstances and potential outcomes. Not every risk is one worth taking, and not every risk should be overlooked. The trick is in deciding whether or not the consequences that may lie on the other side are worth gambling for the benefit, all while avoiding serious danger.
Certain projects in my professional career come to mind. For some, I let the risk pass by and kept moving forward. Other times, I learned to stop and speak up for what I thought was best—whether others shared my opinion or not. Look at your goal, evaluate if a risk is worth taking to get you there and be ready to accept whatever the consequences may be.
2. Road Rage and Cubicle Cantankerousness Don’t Fuel Progress
It can get crazy out there. Several years ago during my rush hour commute to work, I had an interesting interaction with a driver in the car behind mine. Traffic was stopped on the highway, and when the car ahead of mine slowly began to accelerate, I followed suit. When the driver behind me pulled her car around beside me in order to pass, she was honking, yelling and making a few other unfriendly gestures in my direction. Was I not accelerating fast enough for her liking? Was something wrong with my car? Did she attend my alma mater’s rival school and need to confront me because of my alumni bumper sticker? I’ll never know. But I do know we shared quite the awkward drive beside each other that morning after her outburst. Because the highway was so full and traffic was so slow, our cars traveled side by side for quite some time—both of us straining to look ahead and not to the side at the other.
Frustration runs rampant on the highway and in cubicles. It could be miscommunication with a colleague, a difficult assignment or your own learning curve when working a new area. Don’t let road rage get the best of you on the road to success, and don’t let it affect your perspective or your relationships. That certainly is not to say confrontation and disagreements are to be avoided entirely, but they should be handled appropriately and communicated effectively. It’s acceptable to feel frustrated in certain circumstances, but it becomes dangerous when you allow that to affect your work and your interactions. Not every assignment will route you down Easy Street. That’s how you grow and expand your knowledge.
3. Don’t Change Your Lane Just Because Another is Moving Faster
I have an uncanny knack for accidentally finding the lane that is the slowest on the interstate. One minute I’m driving to the conditions of the road, and the next, I’m stopped behind a long line of cars, while the cars in the lanes on either side of me are moving much faster. I often find myself frustrated and stuck looking for an open window of traffic while other cars zoom past from behind me.
Lane envy isn’t always what it’s cracked up to be, and the grass isn’t always greener. Just because someone else’s lane is moving faster doesn’t mean that yours won’t take you where you need to go. Yes, sometimes it’s appropriate to make a change, but don’t base it on your immediate perspective of the progress of others. Everyone’s trip and destination are different, so you can’t compare your journey to someone else’s—though you may be tempted to when you are side by side.
Sometimes, a change is a good and right thing, but don’t motivate a change based solely on someone else’s experience and success. Often, by the time you have gotten into a new lane, the one you moved from begins moving faster too. (I have a knack for doing that too.) Be sure to fuel your decisions with thoughtful consideration of the long term—not just the circumstances of the here and now.
4. Recalculate Quickly
A wave of shame comes over me when I hear my GPS squawk, “Recalculating. Please stay on the route.” I’ll confess that sometimes I intentionally take an unmapped turn because I think I have a shortcut figured out, but most of the time when I hear that reprimand, I’ve simply failed to follow the directions and I’ve missed a turn.
Mistakes will happen, and they will be your fault. And that’s ok. But when that happens, take the time to freshen your perspective, set your eyes on your end goal, and keep moving. Don’t waste time grieving what you should have or could have done for long. Take responsibility for what you have done wrong, recover and remediate as best you can and use your mishap as a learning opportunity. The next time you are in that situation, you’ll recognize your surroundings, and you’ll know what to do to and where to go.
The road to being an accomplished, effective and insightful professional is a long one. In the meantime, map out your course and look for lessons to learn along the way.