How Many 5-Gallon Buckets Can You Carry?
My first winter in Alaska, I worked as a sled dog handler for an Iditarod musher. It was a dream come true. Literally.
I was finally living out a vision I had seen in my head for years. The weather was crisp, the dogs were crazy, and I was on cloud nine.
I quickly realized I didn't have the physical strength I wanted to be a top-notch dog handler. It was shocking how heavy everything was. How long the days were. How much power the dogs had.
In the beginning, even feeding my teams was a challenge.
We fed the teams a stew-like meal twice a day and after training runs. We prepared dog dinner in 5-gallon buckets in the dog barn, grabbed two buckets and walked it out to the dog lot.
Easy enough. Not rocket science.
But my knowledge, will, determination, and drive didn't help me carry those buckets.
The buckets were about 50 pounds apiece. As handlers, we were expected to carry two buckets, so about 100 pounds. That was roughly 75% of my body weight at the time. I'm also only 5'4" tall, so I can't just let the buckets hang from my arms. I have to lift them up so the buckets don't drag in the deep snow.
The first week, I couldn't even lift both buckets off the ground at the same time.
Dog breakfast and dog dinner were mentally and physically the hardest parts of my day. I had figured out hacks to everything else I needed to do but haul those damn buckets (I don’t know why we didn't use a sled or wagon).
Hauling buckets was part of my growth as a handler that simply required diligence and patience. I had to wait for my muscles to grow.
Push too hard, and I'd injure myself and take two steps backward. Not push enough, and I wouldn't get any stronger. I had to figure out a way to get the buckets to the dog yard and not hurt myself. (And hopefully, retain some of my pride.)
My solution was to haul one bucket at a time. Switching the bucket from arm to arm as I made my way to the screaming dog lot. This approach allowed each arm a bit of recovery time while still getting the job done.
I was much slower than my co-workers at first, but eventually it worked. And it didn't take long before I could carry both buckets and just put them down from time to time. And then soon after, I could walk with the other guys to the yard, chatting, laughing and kidding around.
It’s the same when you start your dream career.
In the beginning, right after you start your dream job, you won't have all the skills and strength required to do it well.
Likely, you'll be at the edge of what you can handle mentally, emotionally, and even physically. You'll feel tired and cranky. Your bad habits will emerge. You'll question your choices. And at times, you won't think you have what it takes to keep going.
But you do.
You have just enough of what you need to take the next step. And that's all you need to do.
Every day, you'll find a way to bridge the gap between where you are and where you need to be.
I recommend a compassionate approach. As best you can, don't beat yourself up. Build the skill and muscle you need AND give yourself time to rest. Try to remember that nothing is going wrong; you are just building strength - just as you would if you were in the gym.
If you push ahead too far, your instincts will have you running back to what feels safe. Don't take any steps forward and you won't gain the mental and emotional strength that's required to move forward.
On the days when things feel out of balance, or you feel behind, take it as a good sign. You've stepped out of your comfort zone and into something new.
Little by little, you'll be able to handle everything required for this new, awesome career that you've been dreaming about.
What professional muscle do you need to start building for the next stage in your career?
Updated April 19, 2023
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