I recently witnessed a woman navigate one of the DC Metro’s multiple-story escalators by sitting down, her back to the top of the tunnel with a sweatshirt draped over her head. I assumed she was afraid of heights. She was with friends and only took her position after all but one left her behind at the bottom of the escalator.  She was clearly more governed by her fear than by social norms. When she reached the platform at the top she spread her arms out towards the light and didn’t look back. I wonder if she knew there was one more escalator she had to traverse before reaching the street level.

It reminded me of a microcosm of the career journey. Some of us get on readily but pay no attention to the journey, like those who ride up distracted by their gadgets. Some of us get on readily but stand passively observant, happy to get there when we get there. Some of us walk, looking down. Some of us walk, looking up.  But regardless of the type of journey we chose, we have to get on even if we’re stepping into a tunnel that’s so long we don’t know what’s on the other side.

We could judge the woman with the sweatshirt over her head. We could say her fear was irrational. We could say she was making a spectacle of herself. Or we could say she did what she needed to do, what must have been done – she couldn’t stand at the bottom of the escalator forever. Our career journey will likely be varied as the patterns of the escalator riders; we will be distracted, passive, engaged, and sometimes afraid. And sometimes we will have to do what needs to be done, regardless of our fear.