Recently I backpacked on the Long Trail in Vermont with two of my longtime backpacking buddies of forty years. I live in Maine, Rees lives in California, and Howard lives in Washington state, and we had not seen each other face-to-face since our last backpacking trip two years ago.
We have been section hiking the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) together for over 1800 miles since 1981, doing sections ranging from 100 to 400 miles at a time. Rees and Howard have completed all 2600 miles of the PCT from Mexico to Canada, (it helps to be retired), and I’ve completed about 1800 miles. They wanted an East Coast hiking experience, so we chose the Long Trail in the Green Mountains of Vermont, one of the oldest long-distance trails in the country.
We normally hike about 12 to 15 miles per day on the PCT, and sometimes as many as 20. We had heard that the Long Trail was much more difficult than the PCT, so we planned to do about 10 miles per day and figured we could cover an 80-mile stretch from the Lincoln Gap Road to Route 15 near Johnson in eight days.
Just like job searching, things don’t always work out how you think they will when you begin.
Here are 5 lessons we learned on the trail and how they relate to the job search process.
Day one was not what we expected even though we had researched and planned for months. Friends of Rees gave us a ride to the trailhead on Saturday morning. From there the trail climbed up over wet rocks and roots, and up, and up, and up. It was relentless and so much different from the PCT.
Lesson 1 For Job Searching
Make your best plan, do the research on the job market, prepare yourself by knowing your skills and value in the job market, but also prepare for the unexpected.
At the end of day one, we had hiked nine miles and were shocked at how slow we were going. The best we could do was about one mile per hour. It took us about nine hours to do nine miles but on the PCT we could have covered the same nine-mile stretch in six to seven hours. Day two was the same and we realized that completing 80 miles was not going to happen. We needed to adjust and decided to scale back our plan to do closer to 6-7 miles in our eight days together.
Lesson 2 For Job Searching
If you are applying for jobs online or networking to find a specific job, you may need to adjust your career search if those tactics alone aren’t working. Maybe you need to change the message you are sending to others about the skills you have that you want to use in this next job (see blog on Value-added). Or maybe you need to change how you identify job openings. Are there other job boards out there you have not been using like indeed.com or idealist.org that offer other types of jobs?
Don’t get stuck in your unwillingness to change. Obstacles are common in our lives and in the career search process. A willingness to adjust when confronted with an obstacle or difficulty is a healthy way of moving forward in your career search.
Day three we talked with a hiker coming towards us from the north who told us how difficult the Camels Hump mountain climb was. He said, “It’s very steep and incredibly difficult. Don’t go over it if the weather is bad. Take the alternate route around it.” We started to psych ourselves out of the hike. Rees and I were pushing for the alternate route which was a little longer but not as dangerous. Howard is a “goat” and can climb anything and would likely be disappointed.
We hiked up to the trailhead where we had to decide to either go over Camel’s Hump or take the alternative route when a day-hiker came down from Camel’s Hump. He told us we were only 2/10 of a mile from the top and the weather was beautiful! We decided it might be difficult but if it was only 2/10 of a mile, we should go for it. I am so glad we did.
Lesson 3 For Job Searching
One of the strengths of your career search is your network, and we need a strong network for advice and assistance. Sometimes people give advice that is only from their perspective and best for them, but not necessarily for you.
Seek advice but balance it with what you know and remember that sometimes others, even loved ones, are giving you advice that may be old information or based upon another industry, not the industry you are looking at. Take advice from multiple people and then make your own decisions.
Day four we looked ahead and realized that to even complete our alternate plan of 67 miles was going to require two long days over some of the most difficult terrain we’ve seen. After reviewing the maps and elevation gains and losses with a more realistic lens of four days of hiking, we decided to get out after about thirty miles. We were planning to pick up a food supply at that point but instead asked my friend Tim to pick us up and deliver us to my car. We would get a place to stay in town for two nights and then do two days of day-hikes instead of the long-distance backpacking.
Lesson 4 For Job Searching
Being able to adjust your plans and be comfortable with change is a skill all employers look for. We deal with changes daily in our lives—it is how we face these changes and react to them that is important. (Read more about Understanding Transitions)
Maybe you have been looking for one type of job and not finding it. Ask yourself, who else needs my skills? For example, if an auto mechanic is struggling to find dealership jobs, they might consider a bakery that owns their own fleet of delivery vehicles, may need a mechanic. Or a K-12 school system might need a mechanic for their busses. Sometimes getting stuck in one point of view can limit your opportunities.
On day five we had a friend pick us up and drive us to my car where we checked into a hotel the first night and a campground the second night. Then we did two great day-hikes where we could talk with each other and enjoy the views.
Our goal of hiking together is to spend quality time together. We had found that hiking on the steep and difficult Long Trail did not allow us to talk easily because we were focused on watching every footstep on slippery rocks and roots and climbing or dropping down steep sections of the trail. We typically catch up on one another’s lives and talk about goals, obstacles, or frustrations in our lives, and were had not been able to do that on this trip so far. By adjusting our mileage and making the change to day-hikes we were able to spend the time together that we had hoped for.
Lesson 5 For Job Searching
Don’t lose sight of your goals. If your goal is to find a new job that better matches your skills, values, or passions, it may take longer to find that good match. Be patient and know what your goals are for the next move.
If your goal is a balanced lifestyle, don’t take the first job that comes up if it does not give you what you want. Be patient. Of course, there are compromises in our lives and you may have to take a job to earn money before you find that ideal job, but don’t lose sight of what you hope to accomplish. For my backpacking buddies and me, it was spending time together. What is your goal in finding your next job?
Jim Peacock is the Principal at Peak-Careers Consulting and writes a weekly email for career practitioners. Peak-Careers offers discussion-based online seminars for career practitioners focused on meeting continuing education needs for CCSP, GCDF and BCC certified professionals as well as workshops for career practitioners and individual career coaching.
He is the author of A Field Guide for Career Practitioners: Helping Your Clients Create Their Next Move and The Adventure of Finding Me in New Zealand. He is also the recipient of the 2020 Kenneth C. Hoyt Award from the National Career Development Association and the Mid-Atlantic Career Counseling Association’s Professional Contribution’s Award in 2020.
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