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Free Solo Climbing, El Capitan, and Your Job Search

At this year’s Oscars, the award for Best Documentary went to Free Solo, a film about Alex Honnold's free solo climb of Yosemite’s El Capitan. Free solo is climbing without the aid of ropes where one wrong move can mean injury or even death. El Capitan is a 3,000+ foot sheer vertical granite wall in Yosemite National Park. Put those two things together, and you have a compelling documentary. You also have, I believe, some lessons that can be applied to a successful job search in today’s economy.

You can watch Free Solo on all the major streaming services for a nominal fee or wait until March 3rd and watch it on the National Geographic cable channel. In the interest of your job search, I also strongly recommend watching Alex Honnold's free ten minute Ted Talk “How I Climbed a 3,000 Foot Vertical Cliff – Without Ropes.” In this talk, Alex shares his lessons on conquering fear, the importance of planning, working solo but with support, and the reward of true mastery. Those are lessons directly applicable to your job search.

Conquering Fear

When you are searching for a job, fear is a constant companion. Maybe you lost your long-time job in a company reorganization and now battle the subtle yet ever-present challenge of ageism in the search for your next position. Perhaps you are a college student facing student loan payments and searching for your first job without significant experience on your resume. You may even be a mid-career professional in an excellent job today but facing the question of where and how to make the next move up the career ladder. Each of these situations is stress-inducing. The fear can be debilitating and even paralyzing. The trick is to not allow the fear to become a barrier, lead you to inaction or even down a path of least resistance. Fear can be a compelling motivator when channeled correctly. Fear is energy. Funnel that energy into the development of a plan. Seek out a support network and understand the reward waiting for you when you have mastered the fear.

The Importance of Planning

In his Ted Talk, Alex shares the difference between his free solo climb up El Capitan and an earlier one up Half Dome. The Half Dome climb was instructive because it was completed with little planning and by his admission, a lot of luck. Both were, naturally, successful climbs but the lessons he learned from climbing without a plan are ones he chose never to repeat. Many people start their job search without a plan. Get a resume, hit the job boards, call a few friends and hope for the best. A few get lucky and find that next job. But for many job seekers, the weeks turn to months and even years. Failure and rejection are fuel to your fear and a recipe for continued unemployment. Instead, build a plan for your job search. Use a job search system. Allocate your time to the job search strategies that will yield the highest ROI. And practice. What’s that? Practice your elevator pitch, your networking skills, and your interview techniques until they become second nature. Alex planned and practiced his ascent of El Capitan for seven years. Then he completed the climb in one 4-hour period. Your job search might take a little longer but planning and practice should guarantee success.

Working Solo but with Support

Climbing a sheer rock wall without ropes would appear to be the purest definition of working solo. But listen to Alex describe his planning process, his trial runs, and preparation. It is clear he also has a team of experienced professionals behind him supporting his efforts. The climb is solo, but the work leading up to the climb is a team effort. It’s easy to feel completely alone when you are unemployed and searching for your next job. When you are face to face across the desk from your interviewer, you are alone. That moment in the interview is your solo free climb. But you don’t get to that interview all by yourself. The key to any successful job search is a strong professional network. Your support team is your network. Your network will help you find the opportunities. Your network will help you get through the door to land the interview. And your closest friends (or perhaps your coach!) will help you practice for the interview to ensure you make it to the top of the mountain and get the offer.

The Reward of True Mastery

The reward for free solo climbing would appear to be twofold: reaching the top of the cliff and not dying. However, it was interesting to hear Alex compare the Half Dome climb which was pure luck to his El Capitan climb which was the definition of true mastery of his sport. The El Capitan climb, and the mastery was, to him, far more rewarding. I believe mastering the job search process can also be rewarding. Finding your next job by sheer luck is a short-term fix. The average job tenure in today’s economy is less than three years. Will you be lucky at the job board roulette wheel the next time you are job hunting? But master a job search process built on personal branding, personal networking and personal selling (aka interviewing) and you will have the reward of a long and sustainable career.

Very few of us will ever find ourselves on a sheer rock cliff with nothing but climbing shoes and a bag of chalk. But almost all of us, at some point in our careers, will find ourselves on the outside looking in for that next job. It may not be a cliff, but it can be just as scary. Take a few minutes (or a couple of hours) to learn a powerful lesson from Alex on how to safely conquer that fear.

Dan Troup is the Managing Director of the AdvantEdge Careers coaching service. If you are interested in learning more about how a job search expert and certified career coach can assist you, please contact AdvantEdge Careers for a free initial consultation.


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