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Slow and steady may win the race, but only if you are on course for the finish line.

IMG_2193My wife and I were walking today in our neighborhood when Deborah spotted this dapper young terrapin strolling in the middle of our quiet residential drive. He was doing what counts for turtles as racing towards the curbstone bordering our street, which, because it ends in a cul de sac, is not so heavily trafficked as some other routes in our neighborhood.

Deborah protested when I walked over to pick up the energetic reptile, thinking perhaps that I was surrendering to that impulse that drives little boys to capture frogs and grown men to hunt moose. But I explained that when turtles wander into a road, it can sometimes take them quite a while to get out because they cannot climb over the curbs. And while turtles that encounter an obstacle obliquely may crawl alongside it until they reach its end, when they run into something perpendicularly, they often turn around and walk away from it. Thus, driven by whatever testudinal urges drive them to seek new territory, they might feel as if they are making progress, but in reality be stuck on the same road, missing the escape routes and bouncing from one side to the other.

Eventually, an unobservant driver may come along and crush their shells and their dreams. Being stuck in an asphalt arena was both dangerous and unproductive, and I played guardian angel and carried the little guy to a more propitious habitat, next to a little stream running through a nearby park. When I released him, he trundled off diligently, and a lot closer to where he needed to be to succeed.IMG_2196

Sometimes, in their work, people can be a bit like that turtle: feeling busy, feeling safe in their shells, but in reality stuck in a sterile and risky place. It could be that they are not performing as well as they believe they are, or that opportunities in their field or industry are dwindling, or even that they simply do not have a realistic plan for advancement. They perceive signs and guideposts that could point them to a better path as obstacles that should be fled blindly. The longer they remain in such a situation, the greater the likelihood that an unforeseen circumstance – a change of management, say, or an economic downturn – might wipe them out entirely.

It can be hard to recognize that kind of danger on your own from street level. Two things that can help are periodically re-examining your career situation from a “birds-eye view” – taking into account not just your own apparent comfort and activity, but also your place in your organization and your organization’s place in its industry – and enlisting the support of a guardian angel with more knowledge and experience than you have. Both options demand effort and a willingness to open yourself up to an alternative perspective. The Eastern box turtle does not have the capacity to recognize when it wanders into jeopardy, but people who can come out of their shells do.