Climbing the ladder when you are starting over
Climbing the ladder when staring over in your career is doable but can be tough. I am more careful now to not just start climbing before I figure out where I am going and what it means to get to the top.
I guess you would say that I have started over a few times in my professional career. I have made changes in industries, jobs, leaders, companies, and even have completely changed my profession! Sometimes these changes were thrust upon me (mostly those sparked by changes in leadership). Still, mostly I have been fortunate enough to be in the driver’s seat of my career choices, particularly once I decided to trade in my ladder for something else.
What did starting over mean for me?
My mindset has played a key role each time I started over. Often, I would think about who I needed to be this time for others to be impressed with me, what I needed to do or accomplish that would make me feel successful, what I needed to attain to feel fulfilled. The majority of these changes all prompted me right back to this spot of how I would position myself to move up, get ahead, get that promotion, climb that ladder. Having hindsight, I do not judge myself for the mindset I held at the time, even though today it no longer serves me.
My definition of success has changed over the years. Early on, it was focused on money. I did not really have much, and I had a debt to pay. It was a means to an end. Then as I got more money, I bought more, but those things got more expensive. There were a wedding and a house, new cars and home improvements, a child, vacations, savings, and retirement planning. The need for money has been steadfast and the main driver of success for me over the years. If I could get more and more, I could have more and more. But more what? More debt, more stuff?
Slowly getting myself out of that mindset of success = money has been a work in progress and labor of love. Money is not my main driver anymore. Do I need it and still want it? Of course. But my main driver of success now is happiness through fulfilling relationships and experiences. When I leaped to start a small business, for example, it is not driven by getting rich. It means fulfilling work, creativity, and purpose. True happiness. I have space and freedom to evolve in ways I maybe never could have if I had not made this leap.
Where was my ladder taking me?
Earlier in my professional career, it was easier to climb the ladder. For one, I had way more energy and ambition to put in the blood, sweat, and tears to make it happen. The lower I was on the totem pole, the easier it was to climb. Once I moved up and then wanted to move up again, it got a little more challenging. The competition got tougher, the tradeoffs got bigger, the politics got larger, and the opportunities were not as plentiful. And sometimes, no matter how hard I worked to prove myself, the payoff or promotion was not there.
Here is some food for thought – in one organization, I was promoted three times in five years. In another organization, I was promoted one time in almost eleven years. Did I earn the opportunity to be promoted? Hell yes, I did. I was doing the bigger job for years. I – just did not receive the title or fair compensation to match it. I broke my back for my comp, any, and in return they got an amazing deal off of the results I got for them, and I stayed put in the role I was in.
This is why many people leave their organizations – they go somewhere else to get the job they have earned because they cannot make it happen in their current organization. Really at the end of the day what I discovered to be true for me is that there were times that I just did not feel valued for what I was doing for the organization. I think that this is true for many people when they change jobs or careers and start over. They want to feel valued in ways they have not been.
Can the climb be easier? Yes.
Thinking back over my career, more often than not when- I tried to climb the corporate ladder, despite how difficult it was. Why is this, I often wondered? Was I not good enough? Did I not earn it? Was I not exhibiting enough skill or leadership capability? Do they not like me? Truth be told, I often told myself these stories because I did not have any other actual answers to justify why the climb was so stinking hard. I was in my own personal world of data vs. drama – a concept I use with almost every single client I coach. I have done a lot of work, I mean a lot, to pull apart the data (I did not get the promotion) from the drama (all the stories I came up with as to why I did not get the promotion). I found that it really did not have anything to do with the stories I was making up. The organizational practice in place for role expansion did not qualify me or just poor and inconsistent leadership practices. So, when I was able to think more clearly about the ladder I could not climb, what I found underneath it all was a deep desire for feeling valued for my work. A feeling that I was not receiving.
Why does all this matter? Should we just toss out the concept of climbing the ladder? No. Because that might truly be what drives you – the status, responsibility, clout, and money be what fulfills you. And if that is the case, then you go, girl! Keep climbing. But what if we did throw out that stupid ladder? What if we replaced it with a lattice? Picture this, a white-painted lattice in a garden full of beautiful, lush green vines and blooming flowers growing on it due to its owner’s watering and care. Is it not true that the flowers and vines grow up? They do. Is it a straight, quick shot? Nope. There are twists, turns, steps down—all adding to the beauty of it all. I used this analogy many times over my career when I would teach employees about the concept of career growth. Lightbulbs went off. And I have had to remind myself about it, but it works!
You see, I stopped thinking about the ladder and started thinking about the lattice. All of a sudden, the opportunities become more expansive. I started to see that I was in control. I wanted something else for myself, and it was up to me to water and tend to the skills I needed to acquire and effort I needed to put in to do that work. Have I reached the top of my game? Not yet. I have certainly had moments of stepping back, of making turns and twists I would never have expected I would make. Is it easy? No. Is it quick? No. Is it fulfilling, and does it make me feel the value and purpose I had been longing for? 1000% yes. More than I could have ever dreamed possible.