Many of my posts on this blog talk about strategies for finding a job; I think it's equally important to talk about effective career management strategies once you've landed a new job--or in your current line of work.
Today I'm musing on the parallels between allowing yourself space to learn in a new work environment and the cyclical processes of penguins. This post was inspired by my friend Deborah Tobin, who possesses a treasure trove of information: she's worked in recruiting, is a professional organizer and talks about penguins at the Central Park Zoo (she's a docent).

This weekend, Deborah is exhausted from talking: the penguins look terrible and everyone wants to know why they are all shedding their feathers. Are they sick?

In fact, this collective shedding is a sign of strength: the penguins are molting, an annual process which takes places after mating and before the winter. Over the course of two to three weeks, they will essentially shed all of their old feathers and grow a new coat for winter. During this time, they'll stay out of the water, eat very little (they've built up some reserves) and look more vulnerable than usual. Here's a YouTube video from the Tennessee aquarium which describes the process.

In my opinion, there are a lot of parallels that can be drawn between molting penguins and the process of adapting to a work environment:

  • It's the feathers that help make us attractive to others. Penguins need a healthy coat of feathers for mating, you are hired for a job based on the "feathers in your cap"--i.e. what you've accomplished in the past--and your potential to accomplish great things in the future.
  • In order to be successful, we have to let the feathers go and prepare for a new environment. Just as penguins need to molt in order to prepare for the winter, you can't rest on what you've accomplished before, you have to assess your new job--learn what success looks like within the context of your new environment--and then adapt.

    For most of us, the comparisons end there: while penguins typically molt at the same time, many workers start new positions alone--and without the comfort of a large group of peers who are going through the same situation. From a professional standpoint, it's important to be simultaneously viewed as competent, capable and humble on a new job. You want to demonstrate both your potential, as well as your growing understanding of a new work culture.

    This can be tricky; organizations with a similar mission can vary greatly in culture and in terms of what they value: what is an accomplishment in one environment, may be seen as counter to the team in another. You need to take the time to learn the difference so that you can get new "feathers."

    Here are a few great places to start: Keith Ferrazi's blog "Never Eat Alone" and the books Your First 90 Days, and Sink or Swim: New Job. New Boss. 12 Weeks to Get it Right.

    May you have many successes with the molting process...