In the working world, the idea of climbing the ladder has been around since the beginning – the idea of working hard, advancing to more responsible roles, to more financial reward and the magical success at the end of the road is attractive. But what if the world isn’t quite the same as it once was and the ladder isn’t clear, or isn’t even there? How do we navigate a whole new paradigm without tripping up? Here are three good questions to consider when you’re starting your career, changing it, or re-evaluating mid-scale:
1. Whose ladder is it anyway, and do you really want to be on it?
The concept of working your way up in a company does still exist, but it’s rarer than a millennial Vancouverite owning real estate. There are many ways to think about career advancement, but before you spend a bunch of years investing in an organization, it’s worth considering whether or not it’s even a place you want to be over the long term. In my practice, I see many people who are waking up to realize that the company they love and have been with for years doesn’t love them back. When you’re choosing a first or next place to go, stop to assess first your own values and the qualities you want in your work and then figure out if the company you’re jumping to is really in alignment.
2. What if the ladder isn’t a ladder?
Sheryl Sandberg suggested (as have others), that the direct career track so many of us hoped for when graduating just doesn’t exist. They’ve described it as more of a jungle gym, with many paths to the top. This might mean a lateral move, a downgrade or a step out to advance back in.
There are many ways to achieve, and if you’re the kind of person who keeps trying different things, unsure of what you’ll find fulfilling, you’ll first have to get over the idea that you’re somehow flawed or a failure because you make what others might see as “false starts”. Each start is not false, it’s just a unique way of approaching work and making meaning in our lives. Each start provides a point of interest, a learning stop on the way to wherever it is you’re going.
It can be difficult to be different for sure, especially if surrounded and shamed by linear thinkers. Try to think of it this way: if you’re sure of what you want and are focused and progressing in a predictable path to your goal, good for you. You’re lucky. If you’re unsure and progressing unpredictably, imagine that each “false start” is simply a point to which you’re extending from the centre, like the spoke of a wheel. At some time in the future (it’s different for everyone who thinks like this), the points will all get connected, ending up looking more like a spider web, rather than a linear A to B path. If you’re not on a ladder, you might be on a web instead – try to start seeing the connections between your points.
3. What’s at the end and where is that for you?
Finally, do think a little about the kind of life you want to have and don’t be seduced with the glamour of all that extra responsibility, fame and/or cash. If you want that, go for it and you’ll be lauded by our culture in general. However, if you want a simple, small life, you’re allowed to do that too, even though our movies and plays and media don’t show the joys of that kind of existence. Revel in the simplicity, smell the flowers, spend time building your relationships and enjoy your work, whatever it may be. You might die tomorrow, so the sooner you feel good about where you’re at and the direction in which you’re heading, the easier your life is going to roll. You get to decide and you always have a choice, no matter where you’re at.
Choose. Choose daily. And change your mind or don’t. But keep choosing things that align with who you really are. And if you don’t know who that is, get started on figuring it out, because at the end, you’re the only person that matters.