Career Power-UpCareer SkillsCareers

Three Things I Learned Going to the End of the World

By Paige Kassalen

Eighteen months ago, I booked a trip of a lifetime to Antarctica. It was a 13-day cruise, leaving from Argentina, and I finally embarked on my journey this past December.

I knew this experience would be incredible and come with a wealth of knowledge, but I was surprised at how many of those revelations related directly to my everyday experiences.

I condensed these learnings into three main takeaways:

1. Our brains are extremely good at normalizing things, but that’s a good thing

As we made our way down the Drake Passage towards Antarctica, we started spotting wildlife! We would see a humpback in the distance or one lone penguin jumping as it swam, and everyone would sprint to the window to catch a glimpse.

Fast-forward 10 days later when we would see three penguins standing on an iceberg and no one would even try to take a picture. It is sad because I never thought seeing something like that could feel normal, but one of our expedition guides provided some good perspective.

He said, “it’s good our brains normalize things or else we would constantly be freaking out over the smallest details of life.” As I thought more about how our brains normalize things, I started to understand that it is not a bad thing, and more of a sign of growth.

For example, the first time I gave a big presentation to a leadership team at work, I practiced for almost a full day before. Now, spending a full day practicing wouldn’t even cross my mind. It’s not because of a lack of caring about the presentation, but it’s because my brain has normalized this type of activity.

I’m now not going to feel sad, or even bad, for normalizing things. I’m going to reflect on how far I’ve come, and continue to try and push myself out of my comfort zone.

2. Prioritizing your goals and investing the time to make it happen is worth it

As I was constantly blown away by the Antarctica scenery, I kept thinking “I am so glad I prioritized this.” “Prioritized” might seem like a strange word to use, but it really was something I prioritized.

I spent 18 months planning the journey, saving money, and ensuring I had enough vacation time. To do this, I needed to say “no” to other things. I kept my eye on the prize, and it was worth it.

Especially when something is a big goal, like going to grad school, switching careers, or doing an international rotation, it can seem daunting to think of all the pieces that need to line up to make it possible. The key is that you know those pieces you need, and you can start making a roadmap for getting yourself there.

The best part is the level of achievement you feel when you’ve accomplished a major goal. You realize that nothing is out of reach.

3. Everyone is on their own journey, and for a point in time, it overlaps with yours

For the past 18 months, I had sorted out the logistics and tried to pack for every scenario imaginable. As I boarded the ship, I realized for the first time that I was surrounded by 169 people who completely understood the experience of investing time to make this goal a reality.

While building relationships, I kept thinking how in a few days, everyone would be back on their separate journeys.

This started reminding me of teams I have been a part of. When I worked with Solar Impulse, I spent six months traveling around the world with a group of 60 people who are now back on their own journeys. When I worked in the future of mobility, I worked with an amazing group of colleagues who empowered each other. Now, I enjoy receiving pictures of grandkids or following them on social media.

Of course, there is always going to be an end to the time when someone’s journey overlaps with yours, but going to the end of the world reminded me that that is why it’s important to use those overlapping timeframes to the fullest.

Invest the time to get to know your colleagues, push each other to do whatever you can to make big things happen, and make sure to enjoy the journey.

Stepping foot on Antarctica was a goal I had been dreaming of completing for more than a decade. Achieving this type of goal came with so many emotions that have shaped my everyday outlook.

Each person’s experience accomplishing a stretch goal is unique and will have unique takeaways. I hope this article makes you want to prioritize a stretch goal in 2023!

Paige Kassalen

Paige Kassalen loves to put her creativity to use by solving problems in emerging technical fields, and has been an IEEE member since 2012. After graduating with a degree in electrical engineering from Virginia Tech in 2015, Kassalen began her career with Covestro LLC. in 2015, and soon became the only American engineer working with Solar Impulse 2, the first solar-powered airplane to circumnavigate the globe. This role landed Kassalen a spot on the 2017 Forbes 30 Under 30 list along with feature articles in Glamour, Fast Company and the Huffington Post. After Solar Impulse, Kassalen has helped Covestro and JPMorgan Chase develop and implement strategies to embrace a range of emerging technology trends from autonomous vehicles to machine learning. In 2020, Kassalen received a Master of Information Systems Management degree from Carnegie Mellon University and now uses her problem-solving skills at an artificial intelligence startup, CrowdAI, where she leads the implementation of computer vision solutions for existing commercial customers.

Related Articles

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Back to top button