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We live and work in a mountain-climbing culture.
We want to see the peak, map out a route, and follow it to the top-our metaphors for goal-setting and goal-getting our way through our lives and careers.
Real life, however, often defies this approach. That’s because most of our experiences actually resemble a desert. We get lost or stuck, and even chase the occasional mirage. From raising kids to plotting our careers, we find few clear routes or identifiable peaks.
A Saharan adventure
I learned plenty about the desert as a kid.
Fresh out of high school, I sailed for France with the notion of backpacking through Europe. A chance encounter in Paris changed my travel plans- and, ultimately, my life. I embarked on an overland odyssey across the Sahara-the world’s largest desert-that, over the course of 49 days and some 4,500 miles, became the adventure of a lifetime.
In the Sahara, I learned it’s impossible to know exactly where you’re going or how you’ll get there, much less when you’ve arrived. So it is with the deserts of life and work. Unlike our mountains, we can’t conquer them.
A matter of terrain
Why is it important to distinguish between mountains and deserts? The rules of travel vary greatly depending on the terrain.
What works on Mt. Everest is useless in the Sahara. On the desert’s scorching and shifting sands, wearing stiff alpine boots or plotting a start-to- finish route spells trouble.
The same goes for our personal deserts. When we’re lost or stuck, our mountain-climbing methods don’t work. There’s no map or route for a desert such as marriage, divorce, parenting, job loss, or chronic illness. To travel wisely, we must follow a different set of rules.
The rules of desert travel
In the Sahara, the best way to cool a car’s overheating engine is to turn the heater on full-blast and keep driving. Indeed, the rules of desert travel are surprisingly counterintuitive. They’re also chock-full of life lessons for a mountain-climbing culture.
Let seven such rules be a guide for crossing your own deserts in life and at work. They’ll help you find meaning and direction in the uncertain, unpredictable terrain.