In 2019, Jeremy Tong – the then 29-year-old Singaporean successfully scaled up Mount Everest. Stories like his often get romanticised, but his journey climbing the world’s tallest mountain was anything but rosy.
The path to the summit was full of challenges: Too windy, too cold, and surprisingly, there was a lot of waiting. Tong spent more than an hour at one point hanging around in a “human traffic jam” for other climbers to move through a single rope-path on the Everest.
It’s not easy to climb a mountain given the unexpected turmoil, congested pathways and sometimes dangerous consequences on the journey to the summit. Tong’s experience is one example that many can learn from and not just those who intend to climb the world’s tallest mountain.
Most of us would have our own professional version of Everest to scale.
Like climbing the Everest, our journey to the peak of our career ladder will be filled with many challenges.
There are lessons from Tong’s experience that we could use to help us navigate our professional Everest.
LESSON #1 – GLORY DOESN’T COME OVERNIGHT
Years of work experience will help pave your journey up the career ladder. Every step can feel like a long slog but get clear about how this takes you where you want to be and don’t lose heart.
Tong may have taken 12 hours to reach his destination but his journey didn’t start from base camp. It started 15 years ago when he first started clocking his climbing hours.
It would have been impossible for Tong to finish the summit without training to prepare him for the harsh weather conditions and the mentally and physically tiring climb.
Likewise, to “level up” in your career journey, you need to grow your “career muscle” by putting in the daily hours at the “gym”, strengthening your knowledge and skills in the field where you work, and gaining new, relevant experiences that can help you navigate obstacles.
Careful not to confuse the number of years you spent in your job as equal to the number of experience that you have.
Just because you have spent 10 years in the same role doesn’t mean you have 10 years of experience if you were just doing the same tasks over and over again.
To achieve truly relevant work experience, you would need to do way more than that, meaning volunteering for new projects and assignments, or putting your hand up when the overseas posting comes along.
LESSON #2 – BE PREPARED TO DEAL WITH LESS COMPETENT COLLEAGUES
During the climb to the submit, Tong recalled seeing mountaineers who were clearly inexperienced trying to scale Everest.
He did not say if weaker participants had contributed to the delay to his journey to the summit but in the corporate world, lesser colleagues could delay your journey up your career ladder. Colleagues in a more senior position may hold some sway over what you do.
If you realise your manager appears “weak” or “incompetent” in his or her job, despite their accomplishments and credentials in their past roles, you’re not the only one.
This phenomenon, observed by Laurence J Peter who developed the Peter Principle concept, highlights that people in a hierarchy tend to rise to their “level of incompetence”.
In other words, an employee is promoted based on their success in previous jobs until they reach a level where they are no longer competent, as skills in one job do not necessarily translate to those needed in another.
But don’t let your less incompetent but senior colleagues stop you from going up the career ladder. Don’t let your perception of them and angst over where they have gotten to cloud your focus.
It is important to work with colleagues regardless of their strengths or weaknesses. Your relationships with them may give you the unexpected support you need to press on up your career ladder.
LESSON #3 – RESPECT THE ONES THAT ARE GIVING WAY (AND LEARN FROM THEM AT THE SAME TIME)
To keep things going along his pathway, Jeremy flattened himself along the tight rope so that descending mountaineers could pass him easily. It is a gesture of mountaineering respect accorded to the ones who come before him.
During your climb up your professional Everest, you may come to a point where those at the top are stepping down, and it is important that you give them the space and respect when they do. Doing so may help you get some useful tips and advice on what’s ahead.
If given a chance, take the opportunity to form a cordial relationship with them as it would allow you to tap on their past experience and get valuable input. They may offer valuable insider nuggets of knowledge that you can only tap on after you have invested time to develop a good working relationship with them. See them as mentors who can aid you.
Even if your professional environment doesn’t have such a structure in place, it doesn’t stop you from pursuing a mentorship.
Personally, I have mine in the form of Steven Seek, the former MD of JobsDB Asia and now certified business and leadership coach.
I was then caught between the choice of beginning a HR tech startup versus a corporate career service role in a tertiary institution. Instead of comparing between the two, he got me to focus on comparing what’s next after each of these roles. That helped me make a better decision.
LESSON #4 – FAMILY SUPPORT IS CRUCIAL
One of the key motivation for Tong is his wife. Without her moral support, his achievement might not have happened.
Indeed, family support is crucial in a journey to career success.
In a sharing session in Nov 2018, local blogger, Mr Brown shared how his formative years, when he had decided to become a professional blogger, were tough on him. He said there were many times when he thought of giving up, but thanks to his wife’s support behind whatever decision he made, he was able to keep going.
There is a famous African proverb: If you want to walk fast, walk alone. If you want to walk far, walk together.
Your professional Everest will likely be a marathon rather than a sprint, and may seem to take forever to complete. There may also be a temptation to step on other shoulders to reach your goal, but what’s the point if you have to celebrate alone?
The journey to the top will require help from the people around you, your family, friends, and even your colleagues.
Even Tong had his trusted Sherpa guide, Pemba, to high five him on the summit.