It was in 2016 when I, with a small group of people, visited Bolivia. We drove from north to south coming from Peru and continuing to Chile. Aside from the otherworldly salt flats of Salar de Uyuni, I was profoundly impacted by the visit of a local silver and zinc mine in Potosi.
Potosi is an old mining town founded in 1545 when silver was found in Cerro Rico mountain. The town and the entrance to the mine are 4000 meters above sea level. If not appropriately acclimated at this altitude some people may already experience high altitude sickness.
The air is thinner than you are used to, you get out of breath faster, and generally, it is not an environment someone from the heart of Europe living the whole life 300 meters above sea level enjoys for long.
When we arrived in Potosi four of our group, those without fear of confined spaces, felt the urge to explore the mine. I was genuinely looking forward to it as the visit sounded interesting. However, nothing could prepare me for the actual experience.
We started in the morning, and the first trip was to the miners’ market. The mine is still in operation, and so it is a good practice for tourists who want to see the mine to bring a gift for the miners. The suggested items are things that will make their life easier. We bought a bottle of 96 percent alcohol, a bag of coca leaves, and a couple of sticks of dynamite. What a winning combination! And you can buy this stuff freely on the market!
This shopping experience set the tone for the rest of the visit. It was immediately clear that we are in another world where different rules apply and the niceties of the modern civilization are virtually non-existent.
After getting some overalls, wellington boots, hard hats and flashlights we entered the mountain. It was an easy walk as we walked horizontally along the tracks laid for the carts full of rock that are being usually pushed by two miners to get the material out of the mountain.
So far so good. As we walked further from the entrance the light faded and the air started to thicken. The lighting system was very primitive, and in some parts, we couldn’t see a thing without our personal flashlight. The mine operates as it had centuries ago. Everything is done by hand. And there is no ventilation system.
We went a couple of hundred meters deep into the mountain, and as we met the miners, we handed them some of the trinkets we brought. It was appreciated and remedied some of the nuisances we were causing.
Our guide, an old miner and foreman, who spent his life in this place, stopped in front of a small hole in the ground. When looking closer, I saw a ladder covered by dust going to a lower level. He offered us to get the real mining experience but only I was foolish enough to accept, and the rest was content to stay where they were.
It was just me and the miner, who descended to a lower level. There we found another ladder to go even deeper. And another one. And one more. Four levels down the tunnel was really narrow, just for one person to go through and work.
It was dark and quiet. Until we heard a booming noise and a slight tremor as some miner in a faraway part of the mine blasted rock with dynamite. The air was full of dust, so I had to put a bandanna over my mouth and nose and breathe through it. A lot of dust, and not much oxygen.
First time in my life I felt uneasy in confined space. I’m not claustrophobic, in fact, I enjoy confined spaces. I find them cozy. But this really stretched me to my limits. Being in the heart of a mountain, 4.000 meters above sea level, cramped in a corridor full of dust and low on air, hearing the dynamite explosions, and knowing it would take me about thirty to forty-five minutes to get out was too much. So when the old miner offered me to the opportunity to crawl on my belly through a small opening the rest of the way to see one of the miners at work I politely declined.
We decided to head back to the surface, and I’ve got enormous respect for the miners who spend years working in these conditions. Some of them would spend more than twelve hours underground and even nap there between shifts as it would take too long to get back to the surface.
The miners spend many years of their lives in these conditions as the pay is excellent, comparatively speaking. They don’t have much time to enjoy their families, and they hazard their health and often even their lives for the hope of better future. Huge respect.
So what does this mean for you and your career?
Many of us are really spoiled when it comes to jobs and the work we are willing to do. That is natural. But it also makes us weak and miserable when faced with even a slight adversity.
Be grateful for what you’ve got – this applies not only to a job but to your life as a whole. If you tend to complain about everything, just stop for a minute and think about how lucky you are. You are fortunate that you even have a job, that you have a regular income, that you have a shelter, food, friends, and family. You may consider this as normal, but it is not. Majority of the seven billion people on Earth don’t have that kind of luxury that you take for granted.
There is no satisfaction without suffering – if everything in your life goes easily, you are less satisfied with your achievements than if you have to work hard for them. It is the obstacles and difficulties that you need to overcome on your way to success that will eventually give you the feeling of satisfaction.
If things go too easy or you don’t need to work at all you get finally bored with everything, life included. You won’t feel the joy anymore. You won’t feel the satisfaction of a job well done when you do no work.
Understand what you are willing to sacrifice – when people talk about their careers and their dream jobs they often forget to consider what they are willing to give up for achieving their dreams. You can see this especially in high intensity, high stress, high responsibility jobs.
People dream of becoming a doctor, soldier, or CEO but they forget to consider what it will cost them. The endless hours in the office or on a mission. No time for family. A continuous row of stressful decisions and damaged relationships.
You also need to consider the opportunity cost. If you do one thing, it means you can’t do something else. If you spend all your time on becoming the best manager there is, it means you can’t spend that time on becoming the best accountant, writer, or an engineer.
Understanding what are the things important to you that you are not willing to sacrifice and what are the things you are willing to put on the table to be replaced by something new is vital as it frames what sort of jobs you can realistically reach. This sort of mental inventory is helpful to set your internal expectations, and it may lead to you realizing that the dream job you wanted isn’t your dream job at all.
Take care of your health – the most significant sacrifice some professionals make without even thinking about it is their health. You need to be extra careful and mindful of your health. Damaging your body and soul is the one sacrifice you really shouldn’t make. You have a limited number of internal resources and not eating properly, not keeping your body in shape, ignoring your health will eventually lead to you limiting what you can actually do.
When you look at some of the most successful people on the planet, you will quickly discover that most of them take care of their health. They have a routine of taking care of themselves they follow religiously. That is one of the reasons why they have the energy, focus, and perseverance that helped them to get where they are.
Next time you have an urge to start complaining about how miserable your life is, take a breath and consider things in perspective. Maybe you will realize that compared to the rest of the human race you are doing really well, and things could be much worse if you had to work for living in the silver mines on the high planes of Bolivia.
What are your thoughts on career? What are the things you are willing to sacrifice to achieve your dreams? Or do you think that there is no need for sacrifices and that if you do things properly you can have your cake and eat it too?
Photo: DariuszSankowski / Pixabay.com