Our school system teaches all of us to fit in. We go to high school to prepare for college, just like the army trains in boot camp before landing on the battlefield. College is supposed to educate, prepare and guide us into a corporate job. Entry-level corporate workers are instructed on how to climb the corporate ladder to have a successful career. From the water boy or girl, to the cubicle warrior, to an office and finally, a private jet, or so we’re told. This system is completely broken in a world where technology has shattered corporate hierarchies, and given everyone free speech and visibility. Other factors include the generational gap and the false promise of job security. So how do we treat our careers in this new environment?
The corporate ladder exists because it has for generations and it has worked well, until now. The fact that your intern has just as much as a voice as your CEO means that there is a shift in power and platform. Putting in decades worth of service in exchange for a pension, stock options, a company car, and an executive salary doesn’t work anymore. The best way to move up a corporate ladder is to switch companies, get higher salaries each time, with more experience, and then progress from there. People who try to stay at a company too long actually don’t move up the ladder, they stay where they are or are forced to quit because someone else can be hired to do their job cheaper. Millennials are going to spearhead this career management change because they “job hop” and because many people this age can start online companies, without having to be rich now.
A corporate ladder moves up in one direction. You go from an entry-level worker, to a manager, to a director, to a vice president, to the CEO. Larger companies have Sr. and Jr. level positions for each career phase as well. The problem is that you can’t get to the top anymore by moving in one direction, and the economy has given corporations leverage so that it’s even harder and more competitive to go on that journey.
The ladder is created by people that don’t share your goals. Companies care about their hierarchies, not the way in which you manage your career. That’s up to you!
If we don’t treat our careers like a ladder anymore, then what should we do?
You might have heard the word “labyrinth” from the old Greek mythology, where a legendary artificer Daedalus built a Labyrinth for King Minos of Crete at Knossos. It held a Minotaur, which is a half man and half bull, which was eventually killed by Theseus. In this case, it was a maze that was almost impossible to get out of. There is no right or wrong way to navigate through this kind of maze and everything in unpredictable. In the Greek example, the Minotaur could almost appear out of nowhere and kill you.
Your career should be treated like a labyrinth, and it already is. Aside from Greek mythology, labyrinths are symbolic for moving toward salvation or enlightenment. In your career, it’s the journey that you should be excited about, not false promises of corporate promotion. The journey isn’t one directional or linear. Instead, it’s a path that you have to create and experience. The labyrinth way of thinking about your career illustrates that change is constant, nothing is guaranteed and you decide which path to take, not someone else. Besides, where’s the thrill in climbing a ladder that has a system and politics around it? Why not a labyrinth with surprises, failures, learning’s and achievement!
How are you managing your career? Are you trying to climb a corporate ladder or are you in a labyrinth?