If success is a ladder, and if you are standing on a rung of a ladder, then it is time to climb up a rung. Otherwise, you are blocking the way up for the person on the rung beneath you.
This is a personal philosophy that my husband and I share, and it’s something we tell our protégés all the time. We’ve found it to be motivating for ourselves and also for others. This is partly because it reflects a growth mindset and partly because it puts our own efforts into a larger, social context.
Moving upward is one way to help others.
“Success” is personal. Are you successful at being there for your loved ones? Are you successful at being a good listener? How about living up to your own standards? Keeping promises to yourself? Contributing to your community or family in some way?
All of these are important. We have to admit that the work we do is also important, that our efforts matter to something larger than ourselves. This is where the sense of a “career ladder” comes in.
Take the example of the manager of our local cafe. We spend a lot of time there, and we know a bit about most people on the staff. This particular woman is a major Upholder, and her work ethic clearly aligns with my husband’s. (Too bad she isn’t interested in engineering...) She’s been working full time while trying to finish her master’s degree, and criticizing herself for not being able to juggle the demands of both.
She got the Ladder Speech.
As not just a capable but an excellent store manager, she has trained her team well. She knows they can cover for her when she isn’t there.
If she doesn’t do as well as she could in school because she’s overextended, then her grades won’t be what they could be. This will lessen the value of her degree. She won’t get the maximum out of her classes, which is cheating herself of the time, money, and effort she is putting in. She might find that it takes longer to find employment in her chosen field.
(It’s something so cool that I wish I were doing it myself, although, as we always say, you can’t do everything. At least you can’t do everything at the same time).
Meanwhile, she’s blocking the ladder.
While our friend is standing on her rung of the ladder, managing schedules and ordering coffee beans, she’s blocking the climb upward. All the capable people she has trained are lined up below her, losing patience and waiting for her to climb up.
Get out of the way already!
Years have gone by while she’s been standing on the same rung.
Years have gone by while she’s been:
Too busy to date
Too busy for a social life
Too busy to take a full course load
Too busy to graduate
Too busy to start the new career she chose years ago
Too busy to move to a new apartment, even though she can afford it
Meanwhile, she’s Perfect while she stands on her current rung. She nails all her goals because she’s been doing the same job for so long that she could sleepwalk through it. She knows every single step inside and out. She only feels like she’s pushing herself because she has a lot of responsibilities and her schedule is completely full.
She’s not pushing herself by making herself emotionally uncomfortable. (See: dating, relocating, changing careers, possibly starting a family).
She’s not pushing herself by putting herself in situations where she doesn’t always know precisely what to do.
She’s not pushing herself by risking failure.
She’s not pushing herself by entering situations where she is the least experienced person instead of the most experienced person.
She’s also not pushing her staff. She’s not giving them any room to do more than they are doing, because she is in their way. The only ways upward for them are either to leave and start working somewhere else, or to in fact take her position. To do her job, the job she won’t leave.
She’s blocking that ladder and she’s going to keep on blocking it.
These are fairly common Upholder problems. Upholders feel a strong sense of duty, responsibility, and obligation. They prefer to be in situations where they can make sure everything meets their internal standards. They pride themselves on their reliability, as well they should.
They should also examine that sense of pride and ask, well, couldn’t they feel the same feeling of satisfaction at a higher level? Managing more, and doing it for more people? Doing more, but maybe for a more compelling cause?
There’s nothing unimportant about a neighborhood coffee shop, mind you. I’m in there often enough that I know a few of the services it provides besides steaming beverages. It’s an entry-level position for young people to learn valuable customer service skills. (I often tell them, after witnessing a nasty customer transaction, that if they can smile sincerely in the face of rudeness like that, then they can be successful at any job anywhere). It’s a safe space for the high school and middle school kids who swarm in every day at 3:00. Kids get tutored there, business deals are transacted there, blind dates are had there. Contracts are signed and performance reviews are given. Our entire community is represented. It’s a little bright spot in the world, and it’s a perfectly fine place to be proud to work.
It’s not, however, the biggest, brightest, or best.
Our friend finally agreed about the whole ladder thing. She tormented herself over the decision, but finally she made up her mind. She’s going all in at school. She’s finishing her degree and moving up that ladder.
For those of us who are farther along in our careers, a bit older and more experienced, this comes as no surprise. Of course the most driven and ambitious person at the local cafe is eventually going to go back to school or get a better job somewhere else! It happens every day, because it’s the natural order of things.
The only thing I’m trying to figure out is: who’s next? From my perspective, at least four of the employees who were so carefully trained by our ambitious friend are qualified and ready to take over. Which one will it be?
How long will that person stand on that rung of the ladder, before moving upward?
How about you?
I've been working with chronic disorganization, squalor, and hoarding for over 20 years. I'm also a marathon runner who was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and thyroid disease 17 years ago.
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