We hear the phrase all the time “climbing the corporate ladder”. Or, “getting to the next step on the career ladder”. Almost every metaphor I can think of includes climbing and a ladder. Now, there’s nothing wrong about building an outstanding career if you really want one, it’s just that you need to make sure your ladder is leaning up against the right wall and that vertical is the direction you wish to go. In addition, it is crucial that you get to enjoy the journey because that is truly all we ever have.
I was speaking with a client the other day and she said “I am done with climbing the corporate ladder, I’ve been there and done that”. Now that statement isn’t all that groundbreaking necessarily, but when she shared it with me I was struck with a powerful image of someone teetering on a ladder.
Think about a ladder. Usually long, slender, a little unstable, and certainly demands that you take conscious and careful steps. That image hit me really hard because I thought most people when using a ladder don’t want to spend a lot of time on it. If you are a roofer or builder perhaps you are comfortable being on a ladder for hours at a time but for the rest of us, it is a fleeting (and sometimes anxiety producing) affair. We don’t want to spend extended time on those little thin rungs that barely hold a small portion of our foot.
Yet, when it comes to the proverbial non-stop career climb, people can spend years, decades, and even a lifetime perched on those tiny steps attempting to avoid making “the wrong move”. There is a lot of fear, stress, hard work, and an almost mysterious fog in the air of unspoken “rules” about what you should or should not do while you’re perched on this ladder attempting to grab the next rung.
Now I realize that building a career involves hard work and that oftentimes it is the adversity and challenges in our lives that make us grow, evolve, and ultimately shine. I’m not one to shy away from a challenge. Yet I don’t think it has to feel like you are perilously perched on a ladder. It can be engaging, challenging, and sometimes even (gasp) fun (what heresy!).
What is called for is a new way of being along the journey. One that serves who you are, aligns with your values, and serves your goals. Something a little more cool to hang out on than a ladder.
When I look for a new metaphor I think of things like hiking a trail, running a river, painting on an empty canvas, or cooking a special meal. To me these all have the same element of challenge, a goal, self-discovery, self-development, and accomplishment but come with a more palpable way of showing up in the process. So, if you were to radically invent a new, more pleasing metaphor for your career, what would it be?
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