5 Career Lessons From The Road

Posted By on Jan 12, 2012

During a flight last week I overheard a tearful conversation between a husband and wife. Both were shocked by news received just prior to their departure, namely that the wife’s position had been eliminated and her severance, although generous, would not support them for long. The husband had lost his manufacturing job eighteen months prior and had been taking care of the children while his wife worked. Now, as they left for a short anniversary trip, they really weren’t sure where they were headed or what they should do. After over an hour of difficult conversation, the husband turned to his wife and offered these comforting words – “Listen honey, I know this sucks, but we’re smart, we’re tenacious and we’re survivors. I love you and we’ll work this out, I promise.” Then he pulled out a blank sheet of paper and they got to work on a plan, together.

Their journey caused me to reflect on the analogy that can clearly be drawn from travel to one’s career path, and thus I present five key career lessons from the road:

1) Know Your Destination – Today’s market requires you to summon your inner GPS to discover the most expeditious path to your particular destination. The wonderful (and challenging) thing about our internet culture is that you can find virtually anything you’d like to know about your target career – leading organizations, differing strategies, the best education, critical success factors, common salary bands – it’s all out there for the taking. Just like you wouldn’t book a trip to a strange city without knowing how to get further than baggage claim, don’t manage your career strategy without a proper sense of direction. And like all travel, there’s often more than one way to get there.

2) Map It Out – Remember, first and foremost, that you always have a choice. Even if you’re attempting to arrive at a seemingly unattainable destination you’ll find that those who have achieved your goal did so through a wide variety of means. Literally map out where you are and where you’d like to be. The sheer act of writing down the beginning and end points will immediately provide you with two different means of attack – you can either draw from the end state backwards or build from your current location forward. Doing both may result in a common middle ground that allows you to break apart your journey into manageable steps and checkpoints.

3) Seek Advice And Guidance – There are so many experts offering conflicting advice on your journey that it can become quite difficult to sort through the noise. Pick through several career TripAdvisors and try and consume as much as you can from those who have been there before. Be it a friend, a neighbor, a former colleague, your alumni network or any other social or professional connection, you have a wide net from which to catch a few nuggets of wisdom. And with your wonderful social media skills you can obviously network your way toward some career travel agents who have helped individuals just like you.

4) Paint The Town – Once you’ve actually “arrived” it’s quite tempting to take a deep breath and relax. And although you’ve earned the reprieve, you need to ensure you get out and take a good, healthy look at where you are. Shake off the cobwebs and actively seek opportunities for a better view in order to see what else is in your career neighborhood. Look for adjacent opportunities that fill gaps in those skills required for ascension in the organization. Never stop learning and listening and keep a healthy curiosity for what’s just around the corner.

5) Be Safe – This is perhaps my most cautionary tale. Do not get so comfortable that you mistake this for home. Complacency leads to career narcolepsy and it’s quite common to fall into a bit of a sleepy routine. All business is personal and often the only person looking out for you is you. Keep your wits about you and don’t ignore the signs of organizational dilapidation and danger. You wouldn’t continue to stay in a hotel with stained sheets, a dripping faucet and a broken lock so do not stay in a career or company that’s leaking money and about to get outsourced or downsized.

Just before landing our couple looked at one another, took a deep breath of relief and smiled. In front of them were six pages of notes, ideas and opportunities for their future. And although they have much work ahead, they deplaned with the knowledge that they had taken those first few critical steps toward regaining control of a seemingly uncontrollable situation. I smiled in the knowledge that they were calm and collected, and I think we can all learn a little something from their journey.


  1. While the undertones of the story are quite disturbing, it seems like there is more hope than despair in this story. You spin some nice pros out of an everyday life experience. You come across just as genuine in your writing as you do in person. Thanks for sharing!

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    • Despair did turn to hope Dave – I only wish I could have kept in touch to find out the true outcome of the story. Thanks for the kind words/comments and I hope you’re having a great 2012!

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    • I agree with Dave here. You’ve got a great way of telling a story, and making it relevant for your readers.

      Favorite line: “Do not get so comfortable that you mistake this for home.”

      Thanks much for sharing, Mark!

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      • Thanks Kyle. I learned that particular lesson the hard way (unfortunately) many years ago.

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  2. Great post Mark…powerful and practical at the same time. I’m going to repost over on our HR facebook page. Good stuff!


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  3. Great story but even better moral, you have shared what is very relevant to todays professional in a way that no one can miss, Thanks for sharing

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    • Thanks for the kind words Ntang and I’m pleased that you found the content to be valuable.

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  4. Great post Mark, I really hope it works out well with that family. Also great career advice. I think the question most young professionals struggle with is “knowing their destination.” How would you advise on finding where one would want to end up, or things you’ve learned regarding that matter through your career.

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  5. Mark – great perspective and interesting analogies in your post.

    In addition to having a mentor to help answer questions and give advice (“seek advice and guidance”), isn’t it also great to have a co-pilot to share things with – i.e. the husband and wife team the story is about? It’s a great reminder that life isn’t just about career.

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  6. I enjoyed this piece. I think it can be really easy to lose context about how vital a job you are in is. Sometimes it is a case of one door closes and another one opens.

    I find that when people have had a setback like this that they remind themselves of all the skills, qualities, talents and experience they have to offer.

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    • I think it’s very difficult to overcome the initial emotional shock, Duncan, but once they do, there is a tremendous opportunity to reinvent yourself in a different light. Thanks so much for your comment.

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