Sunday, May 28, 2017

Life Jungle Gym Entry 1 - The Career Ladder vs The Life Jungle Gym.


In reading "Lean In" - by Sheryl Sandberg, she references Pattie Sellers metaphor: “Careers are a jungle gym, not a ladder.”  This got me thinking that maybe Pattie and Sheryl should expand this metaphor to all of life.

I will talk more about my thoughts on the life jungle gym later, but first, let me review the book so far.  I am only 50% of the way done with the book, and I am both saddened and happy that I have not found any new information.  As a male in a leadership role, I am always concerned that I am treating each of the people I work and interact with as individuals.  Just because someone falls into a particular group (male, female, engineer, sales, manager) does not mean they will all have the same needs, goals, or motivations.  This book has not changed my thought of that.  However it concerns me that even with the number of very successful women in society, many talked about in this book, it seems that women not only have the momentum of society to overcome but their own internal and peer group pressures.  I look forward to finishing the book to see what more can be, and has been, done.

The Life Jungle Gym

Getting back to the carrier ladder vs. the life jungle gym; there are just so many ways in which the latter is superior to the former. The metaphor of a ladder is apt, it can not stand on its own, it must be propped up against something.  When you climb a ladder you can only see 180°, but you are not even facing the view.  Someone focused on only climbing the career ladder is very one dimensional and, though they may have done interesting things, not very interesting as a human.

The jungle gym of life is much more engaging, you have more options. If someone is blocking your path you can go a different direction.  You can seem more, and your view is seldom blocked. You seldom have to wait for someone else to move up before you can advance. Nor do you have to remove them from above or watch that someone is looking to remove you from the ladder so they can move up.

I am not saying that a jungle gym life is a utopia.  You can still fall off.  Sideways is not up.  There will still be people above you. But it gives you options, choices, more control over your paths.


How do you make life more like a jungle gym? By taking risks, looking for opportunities, and going another way when the current path is blocked.  When a block happens, you can use the phrase "GOOD" by Jocko Willink.  Jocko is excellent at treating life like a jungle gym and seeing the opportunity in every "setback." To paraphrase him -

  • Get fired. Good. Now you can find a more challenging job.  
  • Don't get that promotion. Good. Now you can learn more in your current position
  • Spouse does not have dinner ready.  Good. You can learn more about sharing domestic responsibilities (Ok he never said this one, but having met him in person it seems to be line with his thought process)
Now Jocko is very different than Sheryl Sandberg, but they both are looking at different ways to be aggressive in your goals.  This does not mean pushing everyone over. This means "Leaning In" and "Getting After It." By being aggressive with your goals, not people, you will build strong legs on your jungle gym.

In contrast to a ladder that needs something to lean on.  A jungle gym can stand on its own due to the number of foundations and legs it has. Do you balance your love of your work with a vibrate home life? Do you even know where to start?  I am no expert, but  I always look at physical, mental, and mastery.


If you have a knowledge worker job that causes you to sit a lot, are you balancing that with regular exercise? Or better yet, an activity that you can talk about.  I am always fascinated by rock climbers, triathletes, other ballroom dancers, campers, hikers.  Basically, anyone that experiences a physical activity rather than just going to the local gym to do a physical activity.

Also, being in good shape makes people look at you more favorably.  It is not a pleasant fact, but it is true.  The more in shape you are, the better people assume you are at your job.

Finally, there are significant neurological benefits to working out regularly.  If you want to learn more about exercises impact on the brain, I recommend checking out the book "Spark" by John J. Ratey and Eric Hagerman 


Do you spend your leisure time watching mindless TV or playing the same video games? You are not really growing your mind.  There is nothing wrong with this in moderation. But what are you doing to use the 18 million new brain cells that you current have that will be reabsorbed if you don't put them to work?  I am not saying that you need to learn four languages and read classic literature in its native language.  But you could try a new language a little at a time.  You could at least reread that novel you liked so much back in school.  You could improve your skills in the kitchen.  Nothing will help get you through the hard time of a carrier change than being able to make an impressive meal on a budget. You can't do that without some knowledge.

You could also prepare another carrier leg for your life jungle gym. Do you know how to code?  How is your business skills?  What about taking an online course.  It does not have to be a paid college course. iTunes U, MIT, Harvard, and other schools offer many free courses online.  Udamey, CloudGuru, and others offer low-cost domain specific courses that can help prepare you for a particular task or event. 

Both the leisure and professional mental improvements above make you better prepared to go up, down, sideways, or even diagonally on your growing jungle gym.  


It will be problematic to live a fulfilled life, or have a successful career, if you are only an expert at one thing.  This is not to say that expertise is overrated, it is not.  You should have a minimum of one marketable skill that is at a professional level.  If you are young, you should be building this skill. However, once you have reached a minimum degree of skill building, why would you stop there?  You are already used to being a learner.  Take advantage of that and start learning the next thing.  This will give you options in your career path.  

Have you ever noticed that your best leaders have always been people that have many skills at, or near, the expert level?  How do you think they got there.  They worked for mastery on their own.

In one's personal life mastery adds depth as well.  What if that coffee table your feet are on was built by you?  What if you could walk up to that piano in the bar and play a real song?  What if when you went to a black tie affair you could Tango and Foxtrot?  How much more interesting would you be?  How much more depth would someone think you had.  These are the type of people that other people want to know.  Knowing more people exposes you to more opportunities.  This means you have more opportunities to move around on your ever growing life jungle gym.

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