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If It's Beneath You, Perhaps It's A Stepping Stone
Diana Robinson, Ph.D.

By one of its many definitions, personal coaching involves working with people who have a gap between where they are and where they want to be in their lives. It is therefore not surprising that I encounter many such people. One of the difficulties about having such a gap is that it may mean that you have to be doing something that you do not wish to do until you are able to move to the place, job, or whatever that you are seeking to reach. It is not unusual that the something you have to do may be something that others tell you is beneath you in terms of your education or experience.

My advice... When you feel that something is beneath you, check to see if perhaps it might be a stepping stone.

My Webster's dictionary defines a stepping stone in two ways: "1. a stone on which to step (as in crossing a stream)," and "2. a means of progress or advancement." Bingo! My point exactly!

When I was a young child we lived near a stream that had no bridge. However, there was a shallow place that was set with stones, so that, stepping carefully and paying attention, we could cross it without getting our shoes wet. That type of use of stepping stones is the origin of the term. But note that, when you use those stones, you are using them to get from the stream bank on which you are standing to the stream bank which is your goal. So those stepping stones were our means of progress from one place to another.

I do understand, only too well, about doing work that is supposedly beneath you. The day that I obtained my doctorate - supposedly the peak of one's academic life - was also the day that I ceased to be a graduate student, and became unemployed. In the months to come, and I apologize if you've read this story before, here is the routine I followed:

My plan was that I would find full-time work in the addiction treatment field, but this was a field in which I had little experience, and which my doctorate did not directly address. Therefore, from 9:00 a.m. to noon every weekday I worked as a volunteer in an addiction treatment facility. This served the purpose of accumulating hours of experience in the field, a necessity if I was to get hired.

At noon I jumped into my car and drove to the other side of the county, where from 1 p.m. until 5 p.m. I worked doing stock control data entry in a vast warehouse. Stock control - reading numbers off little cards and entering them into a computer. That was the extent of my responsibility. This was for a temporary agency.

Because at that time they only had four hours of work for me, at 5 p.m. I again jumped into my car and drove back to the other side of the county, where I then did four hours of phone-script market research, trying to persuade busy people to give me ten minutes of their time answering questions in which they had little or no interest.

When I was lucky, I had time to grab something to eat somewhere on my routes back and forth across the county.

Clearly, I was under-employed, not to mention under-paid, and many people made it abundantly clear that they considered the work to be far beneath me.

Was it hell on wheels (literally!) and was the work definitely "beneath" somebody who had a doctorate and two Master's degrees? Sure it was.

Was it a set of stepping stones to where I wanted to go? Sure it was. It enabled me to keep food on the table and the mortgage paid while I accumulated those precious hours of experience. And yes, before the end of the year I had a full time job in the field of addiction treatment. I had reached the other side of the stream.

Couldn't have done it without those stepping stones!

Of course we do not plan to spend our lives in midstream, hovering between the two banks and focusing all our energy on negotiating the stones beneath us. But sometimes they are a necessity while we accumulate the training or the experience that we need. How many college students could not have earned their degrees if they had not spent time shoveling french fries (or potato chips depending on which form of English you use) into little containers in fast food restaurants?

Long-time readers know that one of my favorite techniques for dealing with difficult situations that cannot be immediately escaped is the reframe. You re-frame how you think of a situation so that it is no longer so intensively negative to you.

The trick with dealing with these situation is NOT to focus on how much you hate doing what you are doing. It is to reframe the situation so that it is NOT an ongoing situation, but just a temporary part of your necessary progress toward wherever it is that you want to go. Whatever we want, there is a price to be paid, perhaps currency, perhaps time and effort, perhaps just putting in the time. See it that way. Don't focus on the negativity of what you are experiencing, but on the excitement of how what you are doing is helping to bring you ever nearer to your goal.

Copyright 2000 Diana Robinson, WORK IN PROGRESS, (Life, Me, You, This Newsletter). Please "share the wealth" by passing Work on Progress on to your friends and colleagues. To subscribe (or unsubscribe) to the Work in Progress free newsletter, read Top Ten Lists or Coaching Tips, visit Diana Robinson's website at Choices Personal Development & Life Creativity.