One of the most difficult training regimens is the BUD/S (Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL) training for Navy SEALs. In the first phase of training, trainees are subjected to an event called “Hell Week”, which consists of 5 1/2 days of cold, wet, brutally difficult operational training on fewer than four hours of sleep. Three-quarters of trainees do not make it past Hell Week. To signify that they are no longer willing to go on, a trainee would “ring the bell” three times.

A former Navy SEAL (Jocko Willink) talks about the mentality that causes people to ring the bell. He posits that the main factor for endurance is not the physical, but the mental. When the mind of trainees begin to focus inward on how cold they are, how tired they are, and how miserable they are, that creates a downward spiral that will eventually cause them to ring the bell. For the trainees that persevere, they are just as cold, tired, and miserable, but they place their focus on others; they focus on not letting their teammates down. It is this outward focus that allows one to access a deeper part of one’s strength and potential.

The Transition from Yourself to Others

In the first stage of your career, you begin by taking full responsibility for yourself. This means that you hold yourself to a higher standard than other hold you. Others will take note. When it comes time for promotion, your name will be in the mix. In our mountain-climbing analogy, you are at Stage 1. (the full diagram can be downloaded here)

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Most people, if they master stage 1, tend to stay at this stage. Staying in this stage entails a never-ending loop of self-focus, comfort seeking, and ultimately, futility. As in the case of BUD/S, in order to access a deeper level of resilience, resourcefulness, and effectiveness, one must begin to orient from a self-focus to an others-focus.

As you climb the mountain, you will notice that there are fewer people around you. Some people have chosen to hang out at the easy-to-reach spots. However, you (and your group) are pushing on.

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Soon you notice that some in the group are struggling a bit. In order to keep going, you begin to pay more and more attention to the group, tending to those who need encouragement and support. This is the transition to an others-focus and moving from Stage 1 to Stage 2.

Stage 2: Developing Relationships and Taking Responsibility for Others

What you begin to notice in your climbing group is that different people have different abilities and attitudes. Some are energetic and readily take on responsibility. Some are whiny and shirk responsibility. All of this behavior is noticed by the group and everyone in the group knows who to turn to in times of need. Those people are the leaders.

You really enjoy the people in your group who are passionate about the trip; they give you energy and challenge you to persevere. In contrast, others don’t seem to enjoy climbing and are a drag to the group. You think to yourself that maybe you shouldn’t have brought certain people along. You wonder how you might want to form new groups in the future.

Manage Your Inner Circle

There’s a famous saying that states the following: You are the average of the 5 people you associate with the most. How much money you make. How healthy you are. Whether you will get divorced. Your life is heavily influenced by those you spend the most time with. Think about the top 5 people with whom you interact. Do they serve to lift you up or drag you down? If you are thinking about running a marathon, would you be better served by hanging out with your couch potato friend or your fitness trainer friend? If you are thinking about upgrading your performance, look to upgrade your inner circle.

You deserve a circle of inclusion and influence, but it’s up to you to create it. ~Richie Norton

Create Your Community

Where do you find belonging? Where do people know you? In your work, whom do you collaborate with? Unlike the inner circle, where you will likely bump into the person daily, this middle circle will have many people, some of which you won’t see regularly. The work here is to take an inventory of all the people that you want to maintain contact with (at least 30 to 50) and find a way to bring value to their lives. The shape and composition of this network has been shown to be the top variable to predict your career success. As Zig Ziglar puts it: you can have everything in life you want if you will just help enough other people get what they want.

To create more value for others, this will require that you continue to develop your skills. This will involve improving your technical proficiency as in stage 1, but also you will need to hone your interpersonal and social skills. This will become more and more important as your career progresses.

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Take ‘Ownership’ of Others

As a result of your life and work, how many lives will you have impacted? How will you leave the world a better place for you having been alive? In this larger circle of influence, you will want to identify a group of people (or any other group of living beings) that you will take “ownership” for. This is not control, but responsibility. For me, my area of responsibility is in higher education. What this means to me is that I will do my best to act in the best interests of those whom I have a responsibility to. As you take responsibility for others, you will grow in order to fill your larger role and purpose. The scope of your leadership will be proportional to the scope of your responsibility and caring for others.

From caring comes courage.~ Lao Tzu

Summary of Career Stage 2: Caring

If you look at many people in leadership positions today, what is one of the greatest disappointments we have of them? It’s that they focus more on taking care of themselves than they do of taking care of others. The reason why we want and need leadership is for those who are strong to use their power to act in the interests of community, and not just to profit themselves.

In contrast, the foundational practice of Career Stage 2 is caring. Your other-focused orientation, expressed through your caring will give you the proper orientation for legitimate leadership and creating positive change, which is the next stage of the journey.

The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others. ~Mahatma Gandhi