7 Traits to Level Up Your Career

I remember watching the original Indiana Jones: Raiders of the Lost Ark in an old three-screen theater with my dad. Watching Indy globetrotting to exotic locations and having amazing adventures awoke my inner 11-year-old explorer. This impulse led to my reading about some real life explorers such as Ernest Shackleton and his expeditions to the Arctic, and David Livingstone and his travels in Africa.

Truth be told the harrowing nature of these non-Hollywood adventures (malaria, dysentery, 497 on an open boat in the Arctic!?) convinced me that the title of “armchair explorer” would suffice for my own future. But my interest in those men who were able to overcome the fear, isolation and hazards to achieve amazing goals has never waned.

The Explorers: A Story of Fearless Outcasts, Blundering Geniuses, and Impossible Success

Enter Martin Dugard and his latest book, The Explorers. Dugard, who you may recognize from his collaborations with Bill O’Reilly on Killing Lincoln et al, uses this new book to tell the account of one of history’s greatest adventures, the search for the source of the Nile, and a study of the seven character traits all great explorers share.

Dugard’s Premise

He claims that all explorers share seven traits: Curiosity, Hope, Passion, Courage, Independence, Self-Discipline, and Perseverance. Additionally he posits that in our own way we are all explorers and that these seven traits can help us fight through challenges, overcome setbacks and succeed in our lives and careers. He attempts to prove this theory using the story of John Speke and Richard Burton’s search for the source of the Nile River as a jumping off point. In the process of telling his tale he further illustrates his point with examples from many other adventurers as well.

The book contains eight chapters, an introduction and then one chapter for each of the seven traits. Dugard tends to open and close each chapter with the Nile adventure, but the bulk of the narrative is a somewhat scattered sampling of a variety of different explorers and how their tales relate to each trait. While this structure hurts the cohesiveness of his tale, it allows for a treasure trove of anecdotes and life lessons that you can apply to your own life and career.

Dugard’s Proof

In the chapter on Hope, Dugard relates the story of Robert Peary and his struggles in reaching the North Pole. Many people began to see this quest as foolish but Peary pressed on not because of blind optimism, but because he possessed what Dugard claims was true hope.

Hope is not just a happy feeling. It is a dynamic cognitive emotional system that is markedly different from mere optimism. When an individual dreams of some ultimate goal they would like to achieve, the process of hope uses creative intelligence and the intricate workings of the brain to find a road map toward the eventual completion of that goal.

Career lesson:  Dreams are great. Dreams attached to a plan are better.

When discussing Passion he relates many tales of people pushed to greatness due to an almost obsessive drive to succeed. But to me one of the most powerful quotes came from Edward Whymper, the first man to ascend the Matterhorn.

Climb if you will, but remember that courage and strength are naught without prudence, and that a momentary negligence may destroy the happiness of a lifetime. Do nothing in haste, look well to each step, and from the beginning think what may be the end.

Career lesson:  Passion can drive you forward, but without prudence and forethought it can lead you to disaster.

In a book on explorers it is easy to see why the topic of courage would come up. These men battled nature, natives and themselves. Courage was a prerequisite. It is harder to imagine ourselves in our white collared world of business and information needing courage. But courage is more than a singular virtue. Dugard lets C.S. Lewis explain.

Courage is not simply one of the virtues, but the form of every virtue at the testing point.

Pair this with Dugard’s use of French aviator Antoine de Saint-Exupery.

You rolled yourself into a ball in your genteel security, in routine, raising a modest rampart against the winds and the tides and the stars. You have chosen not to be perturbed by great problems, having trouble enough to forget your own fate as a man….Now the clay of which you were shaped has dried and hardened, and naught in you will ever awaken the sleeping musician, the poet, the astronomer that possibly inhabited you in the beginning.

Career lesson:  Courage is needed when facing a world that promotes conformity and group-think. Cliché as it sounds to truly succeed we need to think outside the box, tackle great problems and create new ways of doing things.

Explorers: A Story of Fearless Outcasts, Blundering Geniuses, and Impossible Success is an interesting read for the armchair explorer in all of us and while it can meander at times, it has some solid real life lessons to offer.

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