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Advice / Succeeding at Work / Break Room

L.L. Bean's CEO Reminds You That It's OK to Slow Down in Your Career

Stephen Smith

When it comes to your career, there’s only one direction that you want to be moving in: forward.

We chase promotions. We pursue increased responsibility. We take on new roles and challenges that will expand our skill sets. We do whatever we can to keep climbing the ladder—as opposed to moving backwards or staying stuck on one of those middle rungs.

In his commencement speech at his alma mater, Dickinson College, L.L. Bean President and CEO Stephen Smith says that his own career journey was no different. And, he provides a fitting analogy to make his point.

Since the age of 25, he’s imagined moving through his life and his work with an open-top, woven pack basket strapped on his back. As he picks up new skills and experiences new things, he tosses them into his basket. When it comes time for him to make a decision or a move, he empties the contents of his metaphorical pack and takes a look at what he has.

When he saw only marketing skills, for example, he moved to a sales job to expand his expertise. When he noticed that he was lacking diversity in his experiences, he decided that he and his family needed to leave their cultural comfort zones. Smith accepted various positions all over the globe, bringing his family everywhere from Belgium to China.

The backpack analogy is a good one, right? But, there’s one piece of Smith’s message that I found to be particularly encouraging—whether you’re a new graduate yourself or well into your own career.

Don’t always be obsessed with adding new skills and experiences to move ahead.

Wait…what? When so many pieces of career advice emphasize the need to continue growing, pushing yourself, and chasing the next best thing, I love Smith’s seemingly counterintuitive reminder that it’s more than OK to press pause every now and then.

“Don’t always be on a quest to add,” Smith continues, “Slow down sometimes. Take the time to reflect upon what you already have.”

Doesn’t that message alone inspire you to heave a sigh of relief?

As Smith reminded the graduating class at Dickinson College, you already have a pack on your own shoulders—and, it’s probably quite a bit fuller than you’re giving yourself credit for.

So, while it’s great to focus on challenging yourself to become more well-rounded, don’t hesitate to peel your own pack off of your back from time to time and recognize and celebrate those experiences you’ve already accumulated. You’ve earned that.

Want to watch some more inspiring commencement speeches? Check out: