Moving up the ladder is for some, is it for you?
Working with people who spend decades climbing both entrepreneurial and corporate ladders, I find that eventually, they sit back and ask: “Are we working to retire or for a handful of vacations?” Is that how you want to feel? I didn’t. I made changes and encourage my clients to do the same, especially those classic Type A, in the cardiac unit of a hospital, still texting, typing and barking orders into cell phones.
I’m not saying ditch your career, load up your Prius, and go on the road as a Tom Jones cover band living on broken dreams, unless that’s what you want. I’m asking you to rethink your priorities. For example, you are self-employed, micro-managing or looking for the next pitch. And, you are already busy. Should you pitch that new client or stay with the ones you have? Or, you are at a company and scrolling through the internal open positions. Do you really want to apply for that promotion?
Not many people discuss this aspect of the climb. Do you want it? Coaches and therapists typically encourage clients to raise the bar, strive for more, and to rise in their careers. No matter what.
You can do it!
Just wear a pink tie!
Change your website!
Get people to do what you want!
Funnel the leads!
This is akin to the child who brings home a B+ but Mom and Dad say “Yes, but it could have been an A.” But at what cost? The A might have meant more stress, a fewer laughs, less time with Mom and Dad. Have we been programmed to simply move toward others’ expectations such that we sacrifice quality of life for a few extra dollars—which you should save because cardiac surgery does not come cheap?
It is as if we are moving toward karoshi—death by overwork—a term coined by the Japanese? Karoshi translates loosely to heart attack, stroke, suicide, and starvation via overwork. In Japan, such death is so common, there are now government programs to address the issue. According to ABC News Asia, official 2015 figures showed that 400 people a year die from stroke, heart attack or suicide attributed to overwork. Experts say the real figure may be as high as 20,000. And while the government is now passing laws to help, how many lives have already been lost, and how ingrained is this in their culture? Many say it is too little, too late.
If we learned nothing else from 1980’s motivational posters, it’s that we will never stand on top of a mountain like Helios, the god of suns, outstretched to welcome fresh air and sunshine. No, we were taught to read the inspirational quote, go back to our cubicle, and focus on getting ahead; to focus on another, bigger, fluorescent-lit office with even more stress.
Now, you may, in fact, be passionate about your work. If you are, then yes, maybe climbing the ladder is right for you. But it should come with disclaimers.
Take the promotion. However, the promotion may not be right for everyone. Side effects may include, but are not limited to: loss of erection, loss of energy, unhappiness, angry mother-in-law syndrome, disgruntled wife, passive-aggressive children, and cold pasta. Call your physician immediately if you begin to slur your words, lose coveted weekends fishing, stay awake at night repeating “project due,” or zone out in meetings dreaming of fishing, sex, warm pasta, or precious time with your family.
The assumption that the corporate ladder is the only hierarchy for happiness is inherently false. Job titles make it such that we assume a CEO has more power and happiness than an entry level customer service representative, but the CEO is nothing without the organization. Without the manpower, the CEO is one of thin air. Perhaps we have taken the classic definition of leadership too far, and focused on the dangling carrot rather than happiness, or the construct of what we assume happiness and success to be.
If we look at Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, we see what success might really look like. The most widespread version of Maslow’s (1943, 1954) hierarchy of needs includes five motivational needs, often depicted as levels within a pyramid.
This five stage model can be divided into basic needs such as physiological: safety, love, and esteem and growth needs: self-actualization. The basic needs motivate people when they are unmet. For example, the longer a person goes without food the hungrier they become. Clearly, before progressing on to meet higher level growth needs, basic needs must be met. At that point, one may be able to reach the highest level called self-actualization.
That said, before going for a promotion, moving to another organization, or expanding your entrepreneurial endeavors, look at your needs to determine if your current desires, and needs for not just food and shelter, but also for love, companionship, family time, that is, if your lifestyle is what you want it to be, because with more responsibility at work will come less time to meet those other needs. If at our core developmental level we are deficient and are not meeting both our physiological and our attachment needs we already have barriers to create a next level.
Leadership doesn’t mean you have to explore the top of the mountain; remember, the top of the mountain has less oxygen. You may find you breathe easier without the stress of higher management. In fact, there are many faces of leadership.
There are leaders who yell, oppress, use fear and attract minions, to gather, divide and conquer. Think of a bee hive. Disrupt one, you disrupt them all. They attack, they sting, and then they die, but there are always more worker bee’s to do the work. We see this also with street gangs. One leader, and a group of followers, none of whom can operate as a leader unto themselves.
There are leaders who are more structured, allowing some members to have limited power. This is often the case in religious institutions or smaller organizations, and even many larger corporations. Rules and policies are the focus. Thought leaders and innovators are often oppressed; the select few power seats are the recognized thought leaders only.
Then we have the more organic leaders. Think of Ghandi. His leadership did not come with a title or a flashy corner office. However, his power was almost tactile. He led without oppression or humiliation. He didn’t climb, he evolved to the top.
When you look at your hierarchy of needs, finding your authenticity is imperative for creating your style of leadership, should you choose to do so.
Who really are you and what do you really want? What is the landscape or atmosphere of your company? If it is Machiavellian, and you are more like Mandela, you likely do not fit in. You may be miserable and could hurt your health and home life, as well as your security and finances.
If family and relationships are your focus, do you want to work around the clock to get a pittance of a raise? If you are happy; your career is where you want it, and your personal life is balanced as well, you have time with the kids, with your spouse, and even throw a little garden in the window or yard, then you might be pretty content. Why ruin a good thing?
On the other hand, if you are not stimulated enough at work, your focus is on company culture and being a connecter, helping others achieve and being recognized as a thought-leader, then climbing the ladder may allow you to reach your goals. Leadership is often biased, based upon observation and also, self-experienced measurement. Do you feel that your ability to lead is something that you can not only accomplish but enjoy?
If you enjoy leading groups, if you enjoy also taking the slack if your group doesn’t live up to expectations, then by all means, go deeper in leadership, which means often, climb higher. Leadership isn’t like grade-school kickball. You don’t get to just pick the cool kids to be on your team, you have to make sure they can actually kick the ball.
It’s possible that moving up is for you, that that feeds your quality of life as well as your bank account, or you may decide that it isn’t about numbers, or title, but something else. Your work must be a place of compassion for you and, for the team. If you feel that climbing the ladder would be a disservice to your spirit or, the spirit of the organization, take your time. Life isn’t about being somewhere else, it’s about enjoying where you are.
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