Growing up I was a snow day dreamer.
I would not do homework the night before anticipating snow days and hoping for the best. Waking up an hour before I needed to I’d turn the radio on to that special station that announced storm cancellations every 15 minutes. Snow days were like finding a $10 bill in your jeans that you had forgotten about, and frivolously wasted accordingly.
Working as an adult in snowy Maine, I learned that I never appreciated snow days enough when I was younger. See, while many other parts of the US shut down every business and major highway at the first sight of a snowflake (or, as they appropriately should have over this terrible Polar Vortex period!) in Maine we’re conditioned to risk life and limb to get to get to our jobs no matter what.
The rest of the country will return this weekend to temperatures suitable for living as a human being and not a custard-covered frozen fish stick. Everyone remembering The Winter Of ’14 with stories and maybe even iced-windshield-battle scars. From my years of navigating the wintery wonderland, I ended up learning some life lessons that apply not only to driving the snowy roads, but also to running a business and navigating your career.
Neither over-cautious nor over-zealous driving ends well for anyone When I lived in Maine, I’d drive along in my pretty rugged 4X4 Jeep going at a pretty safe 30 MPH clip. In the 1.5 miles between my house and my office, I would encounter two types of winter drivers. The first was someone who comes flying up along my drivers side going at least 50 MPH, which is speeding even in good weather. After I was done not-so-silently cursing this idiot for putting us both in danger, I would come up on a car that was going 10 MPH. I would almost run this guy over.
I’ve seen the same thing with people in my career. The ones who sped by, being reckless and having no concern for themselves or anyone else’s well being, they get to the stop light no more than 15 seconds faster than the other people on the road. In the process, they may hurt themselves or others along the way, and the thing is their completely irrational behavior generally doesn’t get them too much further ahead. Then there are people who go along overly cautious because they are so scared of what might happen. Those people end up being late to everything and possibly get run over by even the most casual of drivers.
It’s the people who go along keeping an eye out for opportunities, occasionally taking a calculated risk and being cautious when needed, who run the least chance of skidding out.
When your car is in a skid, neither accelerate nor brake It’s hard to keep in mind the fact that at any given moment the only thing holding your car to the road are four strips of rubber no wider than your hand on the bottom of your tire. It’s even harder when you start to feel your car losing its traction and going sideways down a lane towards other vehicles. You slam on your brakes or hit the accelerator to see if you can right yourself, you jerk the steering wheel the opposite way of the skid to try and turn the car, and if it’s a really good spinout you see different scenes of your life flashing before your eyes.
The same thing can happen with any project or career. You’re going along thinking everything is ok and suddenly you lose complete control of the situation. While you are skidding out in circles its easy to think that you need to work the same system even harder, or abruptly stop or go in a completely different direction in hopes of righting your way. The best way to handle a spin out, however, is to keep your steering wheel steady and gently pump the brakes on downhills or slowly accelerate into an incline, depending on the circumstances.
Look farther ahead in traffic In white out conditions it’s hard to see a foot ahead of you, let alone the road and other surroundings. It’s easy to become disoriented when snow is swirling around you and you get a tunnel vision of sorts trying to stare down the tracks on the road to follow its twists and turns. You can absolutely lose yourself in the ruts ahead of you and before you know it you wrap your car around a tree or up into someone’s front seat. However, if you keep your eyes on both the road and what other cars are doing ahead of you you’ll see where people go off course and end up in a ditch or the road takes a sharp left beside a river.
In business we frequently follow along a road that others have paved before us. It’s easy to get caught following their exact tracks right off the side of a cliff. Yet the warning signs are always in front of us if we’d just pick our eyes up off our “set path” and looked to see where others have gone astray in making presentations or their own career choices. You can also find the people who have found their way along the snowy road, and take some hints from their cues.
It’s easy to get stuck in even 3 inches of snow One of my secretaries once got stuck in our parking lot with not more than 1-2 inches of snow and some ice under her tires. Snow is a weird thing. Even though there is a very small amount of it, you can easily dig yourself further into a slushy/icy nightmare by just spinning your tires. The best thing is to turn your wheels to try to clean out some of the snow behind them and throw down some salt/sand/cat litter to add traction. Still, you might occasionally need a friend to jump into the snowbank in front of you and give you a good shove in the right directions.
In both the best and the worst of times its easy to get stuck in your career. Doing the same thing over and over only digs you into a bad situation deeper, its crazy to think that not changing anything about your routine is going to somehow lead to a different result. Very few people are able to rock themselves out of being stuck on a snow bank, and sadly those people usually have a lot of practice doing it. It isn’t shameful or wrong to have to ask for help or throw something down to give yourself a little extra traction. Sometimes, you need a little something or a shove to get yourself out of your rut and on your road again.
This past snowy icy Polar Vortex week has been a challenge to say the least. Why not make some sno-cones out of snow drifts and learn from it so that you don’t end up just as out in the cold in your own career and business?
A version of this article first appeared on Elisa’s blog. You can follow her on Twitter where she talks about writing businesses and traveling the world, as far from snowy icy winters as possible.
This article was written by Elisa Doucette from Forbes and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.