Walking Your Career Tightrope

If you haven’t seen it, the suspense is riveting as you watch Nik Wallenda, a member of the legendary high-wire artists family, become the first person to traverse a cable suspended across the span of Niagara Falls--from New York to Canada.

Against Wallenda’s wishes, the insurance carriers for the staged crossing insisted that he be hooked up to a tether, just in case there was a dramatic turn of events. In the end he confidently proved that he never needed that dictated extra protection. 

Could Wallenda have succeeded if he carried the same doubt as the insurer? Probably not. We may call Wallenda a “daredevil."Chances are he sees himself as a “confident pro."

There is a lesson here for all of us.

There are no guarantees in life….Give it a shot….No risk, no gain….No guts, no glory. We hear these common refrains when placing a bet, trying a tough golf shot, setting out on a risky course, evaluating an investment, or buying a new home. On a daily basis, each of us walks a tightrope of some kind. Just how much protection do we really need in making career decisions?

When Work Became a Job
More than one hundred years ago, before the government created the IRS and it became necessary to label jobs and report income, people simply sought “work” in the free exchange of their talents for cash, experience and personal satisfaction. This exchange energized generations of workers who gained skills and mastered their talents while applying practiced disciplines to their ambitions. While life was full of risks, workers did not see themselves as tethered to a job.

When work began being referred to as a “job” people started to perceive an “employment market” that included gains, losses, risks and rewards. Over time, the word “job” also began being linked to value judgments and expectations of security and tenure.

Just how did our native positive habits of risk-taking evolve to where today some of the most skilled job seekers are conditioned to hitching themselves up to safety tethers? When did taking calculated risks or even exercising wild abandon draw so many public critics? 

Both the failing foolish and those richly rewarded are often greeted with similar disapproval. Skilled tightrope walkers from all walks of life are often viewed as not having earned their rewards. They are instead seen as somehow being lucky or undeserving of their success.

Letting go of the Tethers
People who see themselves as offering their talents and ambitions to those who need skills and ideas are just like the Wallendas aren’t they?

Whether volunteered or paid, work should be valued as an exercise of individual initiative through mutual agreement, rather than a job that is tethered, withheld or distributed by an employer. 

Seekers of work who manage their careers do so by charting a personal course, demonstrating individual talents, whether through apprenticeship at work, or in formal education, or both. Seekers inspired by healthy ambitions exercise discipline, ingraining their personal productive habits into the course of their work. The occasional slips made along the way embed helpful “life lessons well learned” while each evolves--whether as eager learners starting out or as they near their careers’ end, finishing well.

We are wise in encouraging more daredevils who have confidence in themselves. These are people who set ambitious aims, exercise disciplined habits and drive to advance untethered.  They become talents who are not so much risk takers as they are risk managers. As achievers, they perfect their gifts, pursuing work, rather than hoping to be “given” jobs. Untethered, these will weave secure, expanding safety nets from among the many tightropes they cross with confidence.

We can all be Wallendas.