I recently caught up with a former colleague who is questioning the stagnation of her career. She’s a talented media creator who has spent the past decade producing content her seemingly blasé boss confirms is “good” and she wonders if she’ll ever get the opportunity to advance to the next level.
Our conversation began with her simple question, “Do I keep swimming?”
And, of course, once I get my feet wet with an analogy like that, I waste no time jumping in.
“That depends,” I replied, knowing the hours and effort she puts in. “Are you drowning? “
“Or,” I continued, “Are you content to tread water and wait for what the next wave brings in?”
It seems unfair, we discussed, to have to race lap after lap when others seem to be lounging pool-side with a good book and a Mai Tai.
I could go on here, (I will go on here), so if you don’t like the water-theme — say you’re an earth or fire symbol or have a fear of getting wet like my dog who doesn’t seem to realize she’s part-Labrador Retriever — you might not want to take the plunge through the rest of the article.
For those who want a deeper dive (don’t say I didn’t warn you), start your reflection by considering the waters if you jump ship.
- Is there an opportunity to be a bigger fish in a smaller pond? Is that better than continuing to explore the pond you’re in?
- Are you currently in over your head? If so, can you identify a floatation device to hang onto?
- Are you one bait fish in a school of thousands? Are you swimming with sharks who can smell blood a mile away and are quick to go in for the kill?
- If you keep swimming and there’s a freeze (read: hiring freeze), how long will you be iced out?
- Are you being lapped by other swimmers or feel you’re behind the clock?
- Are you wading in the shallows? Going off the deep end? Teetering on what feels like a Slip & Slide?
I pause to let it all soak in. She doesn’t have all the answers yet. She likely just wants me to stop with all of the swimming references. Because at some point, it gets annoying. Thankfully, at some point, I do run out of them.
The race is not over. Maybe she’ll find what she’s looking for in the depths of the ocean, the heart of the sea, the belly of the whale… (OK, not quite done yet, but almost). But this much we know — sometimes just taking a breath by having a chat over lunch with someone who has taken her earplugs out and is listening is all you need to sort out the tidal wave of emotion around career disappointments and conflicting opportunities. And then you’re ready to jump back in and swim another day. May you find the tides turning.
Just remember to wait a half-hour before getting back in the water.
Valerie Gordon is an Emmy winning television producer and longtime storyteller. Now the founder of Commander-in-She, a career and communication strategy firm, she uses storytelling as a device in her presentations and group workshops to get clients thinking about how to find power in their own stories. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.