by Chad Broadus
I recently dusted off my old
copy of Carlos Castaneda’s The Teaching of Don Juan: A Yaqui Way of
Knowledge, and found some surprisingly good career advice among its yellowing
pages. In the book, Don Juan, part trickster and part philosopher, tells his
young apprentice of the natural enemies one will encounter on a quest to become
a "man of knowledge." Let me share them, in the context of your work.
"A terrible enemy – treacherous, and difficult to overcome.
It remains concealed at every turn of the way, prowling, waiting."
To be successful,
you have to overcome the natural human fear of failure. I’ve encountered so
many people who are so terrified of screwing up that they never act, and will
probably remain at the same career level and relative pay for years. Managers,
the good ones anyhow, want people who can think for themselves, and make
decisions. Great leaders create safe boundaries, and then empower their employees
not only to make decisions within those boundaries, but also to make mistakes
that are necessary to growth.
"That clarity of mind, which is so hard to obtain,
dispels fear, but also blinds. It forces the man never to doubt himself. It
gives him the assurance he can do anything he pleases, for he sees clearly into
everything. And he is courageous because he is clear, and he stops at nothing
because he is clear."
Once, I was doing
some late night maintenance at a new job, fresh off some successes in fixing
the nightmare that was the internal network. The server rack was the worst rat’s
nest I’d ever seen. Fearlessly, I dived into untangling and reworking the
cables into something that was traceable and not so esthetically assaulting. With
Taking it apart
was easy. Putting it back together, no so much. Around 6 a.m. the next morning,
the early crew of salespeople, and my boss, rolled in. I finally had the Internet
working and all of the 4,000 sites that we hosted back up, but the main CRM
server was still down. Fortunately, I was able to get everything up and running
by around 7:30, and managed not to get fired.
So just a word of
warning. Be fearless, but be realistic. Don’t be afraid of a huge and daunting
task, but make sure you don’t confuse fearlessness with cavalier. In the end,
the server rack looked great – but my clarity and hubris could have easily cost
me my job.
"Power is the strongest of all enemies. And naturally
the easiest thing to do is to give in; after all, the man is truly invincible. He
commands; he begins by taking calculated risks, and ends in making rules,
because he is a master. A man at this stage hardly notices his third enemy
closing in on him. And suddenly, without knowing, he will certainly have lost
some degree of mastery over my fear and clarity, I eventually rose through the
ranks into a position of power. With a vision of what success would look like
for the company, I began to lay the groundwork to put a plan into action to
achieve it. More and more, I found myself overruling decisions and prematurely
ending discussion that wasn’t going in the "right" direction. Eventually,
I realized that the ineloquent exercise of power can actually erode it. I
rediscovered that power doesn’t come from a job title. It comes from your
You can learn a
lot from a trickster/philosopher.
Broadus is a tech professional living in the Pacific