by Chad Broadus
I recently dusted off my old copy of Carlos Castaneda's The Teaching of Don Juan: A Yaqui Way of Knowledge, and found some surprisingly good career advice among its yellowing pages. In the book, Don Juan, part trickster and part philosopher, tells his young apprentice of the natural enemies one will encounter on a quest to become a "man of knowledge." Let me share them, in the context of your work.
"A terrible enemy - treacherous, and difficult to overcome. It remains concealed at every turn of the way, prowling, waiting."
To be successful, you have to overcome the natural human fear of failure. I've encountered so many people who are so terrified of screwing up that they never act, and will probably remain at the same career level and relative pay for years. Managers, the good ones anyhow, want people who can think for themselves, and make decisions. Great leaders create safe boundaries, and then empower their employees not only to make decisions within those boundaries, but also to make mistakes that are necessary to growth.
"That clarity of mind, which is so hard to obtain, dispels fear, but also blinds. It forces the man never to doubt himself. It gives him the assurance he can do anything he pleases, for he sees clearly into everything. And he is courageous because he is clear, and he stops at nothing because he is clear."
Once, I was doing some late night maintenance at a new job, fresh off some successes in fixing the nightmare that was the internal network. The server rack was the worst rat's nest I'd ever seen. Fearlessly, I dived into untangling and reworking the cables into something that was traceable and not so esthetically assaulting. With no pre-planning.
Taking it apart was easy. Putting it back together, no so much. Around 6 a.m. the next morning, the early crew of salespeople, and my boss, rolled in. I finally had the Internet working and all of the 4,000 sites that we hosted back up, but the main CRM server was still down. Fortunately, I was able to get everything up and running by around 7:30, and managed not to get fired.
So just a word of warning. Be fearless, but be realistic. Don't be afraid of a huge and daunting task, but make sure you don't confuse fearlessness with cavalier. In the end, the server rack looked great - but my clarity and hubris could have easily cost me my job.
"Power is the strongest of all enemies. And naturally the easiest thing to do is to give in; after all, the man is truly invincible. He commands; he begins by taking calculated risks, and ends in making rules, because he is a master. A man at this stage hardly notices his third enemy closing in on him. And suddenly, without knowing, he will certainly have lost the battle."
Having gotten some degree of mastery over my fear and clarity, I eventually rose through the ranks into a position of power. With a vision of what success would look like for the company, I began to lay the groundwork to put a plan into action to achieve it. More and more, I found myself overruling decisions and prematurely ending discussion that wasn't going in the "right" direction. Eventually, I realized that the ineloquent exercise of power can actually erode it. I rediscovered that power doesn't come from a job title. It comes from your earnest actions.
You can learn a lot from a trickster/philosopher.
Chad Broadus is a tech professional living in the Pacific Northwest