Career Advice from Trench Digging

At the weekend I was out in the garden digging a trench. Not a trench that you could “get all your mates over and play in” as my son excitedly asked, just a shallow long trench to lay timber sleepers and divide off an area of garden.

While digging my trench I couldn’t help but notice the similarities between the process for trench digging and some valuable advice for career progression.

After the preparation of running a line and marking it out I was pretty gun-ho about grabbing the pickaxe and getting stuck straight in. I started off pretty well and very enthusiastically but it wasn’t until I put my weapon down for a minute and watched my husband pick it up and have a go, that I realised my technique was far from adequate.

I haven’t done much pickaxe wielding so watching someone who has, and learning from them, instantly improved my technique and significantly increased my rate of productivity.

I noticed as I dug that I needed a regular check to make sure I was on track. Every now and then I stopped, stepped back and assessed where I was. Was my line straight? Was I digging deep enough? Was the depth even? That gave me the opportunity to make any corrections before continuing forwards. It could have been so easy to have kept my head down, focused only on getting the job done and finding myself with a wonky trench that had to be redone. It was also good to get my overseers opinion at this time and check my straight line was indeed straight and in exactly the same direction as originally intended!

Finally I had the challenge of dealing with two 8 year old eager, but highly untrained, helpers. While there was a temptation to send them off elsewhere and do it quicker by myself there was also the precious opportunity to help them learn some new skills. I drew the line at handing over the pickaxe but they were a great help at clearing away the earth and filling the wheelbarrow, I could even delegate answering the phone and making the sandwiches! While it may have made progress a little slower it certainly became more fun and more rewarding.

So my 3 career progression tips from my muscle-aching trench digging are:

1. Getting advice from someone who has done the job before can help you get to where you want to be faster and easier.

2. Check regularly that you are heading in the right direction and that your ‘right direction’ is indeed the same as the direction of the person you’re doing the job for!

3. Remember the value of helping others learn a new skill, even if it takes a little more of your time, ultimately it can be just as rewarding for you as it is for them.



  1. Love the metaphor – I can certainly think of a couple of wonky trenches I’ve dug in the past. This is a great reminder to step back and take stock every now and then! Thank Lisa!!

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