Take your eyes off your feet

Crater_Lake_Panorama,_Aug_2013It was unmistakable, the inner voice I heard as I hiked the rim trail at Crater Lake National Park.

Take your eyes off your feet.

I learned long ago, around the same time I first flew in an airplane and looked out the window, that I’m not afraid of heights. But I am afraid of falling. Put a barrier — a railing, a stone wall, an airplane window — between me and thin air, and I’ll walk right up and soak in the view. Take away the barrier and you’ll find me inching back from the edge, looking for a safe patch of ground.

There was no barrier along this stretch of trail. Just some grass and brush, and then a cliff of several hundred feet — the edge of Crater Lake. The view was amazing. But much of the time my head was down — noticing every bit of mud and every uneven spot that might make me slip or stumble.

That’s when the inner voice said Take your eyes off your feet.

Busted! I’d been so focused on avoiding a fall, that I’d lost sight of my goal: to enjoy the hike and see the scenery. I knew I had no excuse, except plain old fear.

So I took a deep breath, focused my eyes on the top of the next rise, about 100 yards ahead, and started walking. Before I had time to think about anything, I was standing at the top of the rise. I hadn’t stumbled. I hadn’t fallen. But suddenly I was enjoying the experience way more than I had been just moments before.

From the trail to the workplace

Since my hike at Crater Lake about 25 years ago, I’ve tried to apply that day’s lesson in every area of my life. As a professional I sometimes set lofty goals for myself, and I’m glad that I do. But I’m also prone to focusing on the mud and the uneven spots rather than on the goal.

That’s when I remember to take my eyes off my feet.

What does that mean in my professional life?

Tuning out the naysayers, the people who say I can’t do it. I’ve learned pretty well not to listen to them. After all, what do they know? It’s harder, though, when I myself am the naysayer. When I remember past failures (real or imagined). When I tell myself that I’m in over my head.

Jesse Lynn Stoner has some good advice: “If reviewing a scenario does not bring insight or resolution, don’t keep replaying it in your mind. You are reinforcing negative neural pathways. Instead, create a new pathway by associating it with a positive memory.” (Emphasis mine)

Overcoming logistical hurdles. Have I given myself too little time to meet the goal? Are other priorities competing for my attention? Do I have inadequate tools (software, processes, or anything else I need to do the job)?

This is why it’s important to make others — especially my supervisor — aware of what I’m trying to do, and to get their support. They can help me get over the hurdles, maybe by giving me more time or clearing my calendar to focus on the main task.

Shrugging off bureaucracy and organizational inertia. This is about getting past the We’ve always done it this way mindset. But there’s more at play here. Maybe too many cooks want to mess in my broth. Maybe cumbersome procedures — checklists, signoffs — threaten to block my forward progress.

Here’s where I need to ask myself: How important is the goal? If it’s as important as I’ve made it out to be, then it’s worth slogging through a little bit of bureaucracy. And there’ll be enough glory in the end that I won’t mind sharing it with a few other people.

What’s your professional goal? Remember to keep it in focus. The view looking out over the lake is much better than the view looking down.

I hope you’ll share your stories of pursuing your goals, both your successes and your struggles.

Photo credit: Epmatsw, Wikimedia

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