Sometimes in life, you can make more significant progress by changing the direction of your climb – switching from climbing up to climbing down, or visa versa.

In the workplace, the career climb includes avoiding all the hazards that will impede progress. Hazards like the equivalent of; falling rocks, mud slides, mist-shrouded ledges that lead to oblivion and damage to the body from becoming stressed beyond its limits. The perspective during the ascent changes too. Your connection with the wider communities wanes. The activity in the valleys looks strange and remote. Meanwhile, the views of the horizon and distant peaks come into view and draw your attention towards new goals, possible at the expense of your stability on the current peak. Fellow colleagues are few too – ruthless, super-achievers, typically with super-egos to match. Eventually, you reach a height where to achieve anything else will require a climb down, a regroup with a wider set of colleagues, more funding and a focus on new goals.  

Where ever you are on the ‘mountain’, there are at least five options. They all have their place and maybe switching to another option will help you with the immediate challenge.

Climbing up faster

This one’s good, when there are obvious hazards overhead (something overhanging that could fall on you at any time). When you get a second wind and still have the energy, skill and capability to take you higher. When you realise the top is even more appealing that it seemed lower down the mountain. When there’s a chance to ride someone or something’s coat tails – a chairlift, elevator, gondola or simply following behind someone else who’s doing a grand job breaking a route through the soft snow obstacle.  

 Climbing up slower

This one’s good if the route up is uncertain (various horizontal choices emerging in order to progress vertically), your energy is flagging (pace yourself) or you’re having to wait for the person ahead of you to ascend further (during an economic slump people tend to move roles slowly).

Pausing to admire the view

If you’re in the waiting room for a job interview, that’s a classic opportunity to admire the view and what you’ve worked to see. Ditto reaching the final milestone in a high profile research study or implementation project. In itself it hasn’t got you to the top, but the view is encouraging nevertheless. 

Climbing down slowly

The terrain underfoot is slippery so you’re trying hard to avoid breaking your neck. The way down is partly obscured but you know in order to make wider progress, the route down is the right one. You’re tired from recent events and want to conserve your strength for the rest of the journey.

Climbing down quickly

The weather above is getting worse by the minute. Whether you reached the top or not, other goals and self preservation beckon. The style may not be pretty but the solution is below. Actually, by climbing down, you’ll probably have a better perspective of the mountain, the wider community’s views and a wider set of pathways to new goals. You can’t engage enough people on the climb up. Too many will watch and not participate.

Sometimes to best understand the detail, the information you need is actually in the valleys and climbing the mountain in a small group isn’t the only way to gain insight – ask the pilot in the bar of the ski resort, the high country shepherd, the caver, the villagers who live on the mountain all year round. Ask the historian who knows that mountain’s past. The geologist who might know the mountain’s future.  Even the retired climbers from glory days past.