Stepping Into The New Year: Moving With Purpose On The Spiral Staircase
I’ve been seeing a lot of high-energy motivational posts with the start of 2023, messages that encourage me to believe that I can be/achieve/lose/gain whatever I set my mind to, as long as I don’t wait.
But, in my experience, it’s the slow and steady, gutting-it-out approach that is much more effective. Careers don’t unfold like the rungs on a ladder, or with the push-button ease of an elevator, with every promotion or opportunity pulling you up higher and higher. The path isn’t straight or linear. Instead, it involves hiccups and detours, sometimes leading you to circle back before you can move forward.
Karen Armstrong describes this “climb from darkness” using the metaphor of a spiral staircase, a powerful image that reflects the small steps, sometimes forward and sometimes back, that we take as we build our sense of purpose, gain mastery and confidence, and transition to new roles and new opportunities. In my book Climbing the Spiral Staircase, I note that, at times, the spiral staircase can feel daunting. The only solution is to move forward, to take that first step, and then the next.
My husband and two sons climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro together while I was writing my book. As they grew increasingly exhausted and discouraged, their guide encouraged them with the Swahili phrase Pole Pole—slowly, slowly. One foot in front of the other. Hour after hour, day after day, until the peak that seemed so far away was within reach.
We use the phrase in our home now whenever we need to push through something challenging, whenever a task requires persistence and grit and courage. Pole Pole. Slowly, slowly.
Perhaps another year has begun and you’re wondering why the professional life to which you’ve aspired still seems so far away. Let me take away the pressure to get it right immediately. You have time—time to make mistakes, time to move ahead and step back and circle around. It will be okay.
Look up to the opportunities to create something you can be proud of and take one step. Slowly, slowly. There’s no rush.