The Top of the Ladder

Are you reaching for the next rung on the corporate ladder? What would you give to be at the top?

Our cultural and social belief system assigns meaning to many aspects of our lives. One of the most seductive constructs is “career success.”

I became a clinical therapist in my early twenties and was hired at a non-profit. I have a natural tendency toward learning and tinkering to make things better. I never set my eyes on the next rung. Despite this, in fact because of this, I found myself in the position of COO within just a few years.

This was as high up the ladder as I will ever go. I had internalized a social belief that did not align with my values.

The top rungs of the ladder are highly coveted. We deny the logical view from the top:

  • Working 60+ hours per week – leaving your family early in the morning and getting home just before bed
  • Spending less than 20% of your time on projects you enjoy and 80% in back-to-back meetings
  • Your personal relationships, hobbies, and health giving way under the enormous pressure
  • Chronic pain creeping in – carpal tunnel, lower back pain, neck strains, and migraines
  • Actively contemplating going against your nature and doing the minimum instead of overachieving
  • Weight sticking to all of those unfortunate places – stress combined with cramming simple carbs at your desk
  • Staring at your ceiling running through all of the things you have yet to finish at night and then having nightmares about failure
  • Appreciating the kiss-up after dealing with so many outright difficult people, then reversing and appreciating the honesty of the aggressive
  • Learning your office friends aren’t friends at all – the corporate culture is one of self-preservation
  • Shifting from the optimist to the pessimist as you finally open your eyes to the deception all around you

“By working faithfully eight hours a day, you may eventually get to be a boss and work twelve hours a day.” 
                                                           – Robert Frost

Before many of you respond that you love your top of the ladder job, these are clearly just the cons I experienced. The pros would have to be quite compelling to convince anyone that this is success at its finest.

More money is, of course, the initial justification, especially combined with a huge does of external gratification. I had a greater ability to have a positive impact on the organization and our clients from the top. I also learned significant life lessons, although this was never the appeal.

I wouldn’t trade those years for anything. But perhaps if someone had shared those lessons with me ahead of time, it might have prevented a lot of pain and helped me to prepare better for my great escape. You can’t exactly climb down the ladder.

If you are on a corporate ladder, will you truly happy at the top? Should long hours, long meetings, office politics, constant drama, and more time spent with fake friends than with those you love be the culmination of your hard work?

Your drive sets you apart and the ladder is not the only option. The apparent definition of success does not have to be your own.

What portion of your salary would you give up to be ecstatically happy every day?

What if you could work for yourself, creating your perfect workday and reaping all of the rewards of your investment?

What if you could at least be aware of what you love about your job and fight to keep that intact rather than succumbing to the money manipulation?

If you’re already at the top, what if you could break all the “rules” and negotiate a different experience for yourself and those you work with?

It all starts with acknowledging what road you’re on. Are you in the thick of gridlock, cutting others off to get ahead, or are you blazing your own trail in a beautiful bit of countryside, family and true friends by your side?

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