“If the ladder is not leaning against the right wall, every step we take just gets us to the wrong place faster.” – Stephen Covey This is a quote that I came across, and it’s variably attributed in its different versions to Stephen Covey, the legendary leadership guru who of course wrote The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Highly Effective Leaders, or the American monk, Thomas Merton. The idea is that a lot of us will spend many years, decades, climbing that ladder, working hard, trying to reach the top, only to find that if and when we do reach that top, the view isn’t quite what we expected. We’ve climbed the wrong ladder and we’re not where we want to be. And that, of course, is a pretty frustrating, regretful situation to find ourselves in…
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The wrong career choice
Hello there everybody. Really excited to be talking to you again this week. We’re asking the question: is your ladder leaning up against the right wall?
Now, this is a quote that I came across, and it’s variably attributed to Stephen Covey, the mega leadership guru, who of course wrote The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Highly Effective Leaders, and also the American monk, Thomas Merton, in different formats. But the idea is that a lot of us will spend many years, decades, climbing that ladder, working hard, trying to reach the top, only to find that if and when we do reach that top, the view isn’t quite what we expected. We’re on the wrong wall. We’ve climbed the wrong ladder and we’re not where we want to be. And that, of course, is a pretty frustrating, regretful situation to find ourselves in.
I’ve talked, I’m sure, before about The Five Regrets of the Dying from Australian palliative nurse, Bronnie Ware. She talks about, “I wish I’d let myself be happier. I wish I hadn’t worked so hard. I wish I’d lived a life that was true to myself,” and so on. “I wish I’d spent more time with my loved ones.” What we don’t want, of course, is to spend our entire lives hustling away, striving for whatever’s at the top of that ladder, only to discover that, “Hang on a second…” when it’s too late. If we’re lucky enough to live to a ripe old age of 80/90, we’re sitting there in that rocking chair and looking back on our lives and thinking, “Oh my goodness, what was I doing? Why on earth did I think it was so important to do X, Y, Z? Because that wasn’t what I wanted at all.”
So, there’s no judgement; there’s no agreement; there’s no right or wrong answer in terms of what that wall is, except for you. The question is, what is the right wall for you?
So as we’re reflecting now at the end of the year about what our vision is, what we’re trying to achieve, that big picture, long term goals that we’re setting, I really want you to think about, is your ladder up against the right wall? A couple of different scenarios. And of course, we’re looking mainly at the work-career field, but of course, it can apply to other areas too. It could be relationships. It could be whatever else you’re striving for in your personal life or not striving for. Maybe you don’t even have your ladder against a wall. Maybe you’re just walking along on a flat surface and you’re not actually trying to get to anywhere, which again, is a choice you can make.
But the classic ladder, of course, is the corporate ladder: climbing the corporate ladder, striving for that next promotion, the next salary increase, and so on. However, if you look up to the upper echelons of your organisation, depending on where you are, maybe that’s really far up. Or if you’re quite advanced in your career, maybe you’re pretty much at the top already and you’re looking up and you’re thinking, “Okay, do I see myself in these people’s shoes? Do I see myself in these leaders? Are they role models? Do I aspire to be like that, work like that, live like that? Or do I think, ‘Actually, you know what? Yes, I’ve loved what I’ve done so far and I really enjoy the work now, but I just don’t see myself continuing. I don’t now want to continue with that next promotion.'”
Now, promotions are all well and good and we can often say, and clients will often say, “Yes, I just want to get this promotion and then I’ll leave, then I’ll change,” and so on, which is fine. But, of course, what happens is, what’s that next promotion going to give you? Well, it’s going to give you bigger salary probably, bigger responsibilities, and it’ll be interesting at the beginning. It’s going to bring, of course, bigger responsibilities, maybe a bigger team. You’re going to have to prove yourself once you’re there, so yes, you have to prove yourself before you get the promotion.
But then, once you secure the promotion, you then have to show that, yeah, you really deserve to be there.
You’re most likely going to need to and want to work harder, but you’ll also be even more tied to that job because you’ll probably get more stock options. And you’ll be on that even higher salary, so it’ll be even harder to say goodbye to that job. And so, the question is, again, is that promotion really what you’re after? Is it taking you closer to where you want to be or further?
Now, of course, if you’re a few weeks away from a promotion and you’ve worked really hard for that, and by all means, take the promotion. Don’t now throw it all away necessarily. That’s something that you deserve and it’s all well and good, but be careful. Because if that then keeps you, “Oh, I’ll just stay for another couple of years,” and then you get closer to the next promotion and salary increase, whatever, again, if that’s not where you actually want to be, what’s the point of those promotions? I know maybe it’s a bit of a controversial question to ask. But again, if they’re not taking you closer to where you want to be, they’re actually taking you further away, that’s not very helpful, I think.
I hear again and again, people saying, “Oh, but I’m so lucky to have this job or a job in a difficult economic situation. Everyone tells me it’s such an amazing opportunity. I’ve worked so hard to get here. It’s such a competitive industry. It’s a prestigious company. It’s amazing,” which is great. Congratulations, if those things are your values; if that’s something that’s really important to you.
However, the fact that someone else really wants to work there, or tells you that it’s really competitive and prestigious and looks good on your CV, doesn’t mean that you want to be there. So by all means, free up that space for somebody else who really does want to be there and really does value all those things. If you don’t then so what if it’s prestigious and looks good on a CV, and so? It doesn’t matter.
Another Stephen Covey quote that I love is, “It doesn’t matter how fast you’re heading, if you’re going in the wrong direction,”
so that’s again, the same kind of idea. “Yes, I’m getting promoted and I’m moving forwards and I’m progressing,” and so on. “Okay, but I want to be over here and I’m accelerating in this direction,” so that’s not very helpful. So that’s the classic corporate, climbing the ladder, getting the promotion, salary increases, and so on.
The same situation applies, same questions, if you’re working for yourself, whether you’ve just started or you’ve been in business for many years, or even decades. Maybe you’ve been of the one of the early adopters. You’ve been entrepreneur or business leader for a long time, and you’re getting a certain type of client or working on particular type of project, contracts, and so on. Now, the question is, are these people you’re working with, are the clients, are the projects the right ones for you? Are you enjoying them? Are they the ones that you want to keep working on, and with, for the future? Are they going to get you and your business to where you want it to be? And if not, are you taking actions consistently over time, every day, every week, to get you to where you actually want to be?
By all means, if that’s what’s paying the bills right now, you have those clients and projects and so on. But then, if that’s not where you want to be going forward, there’s no point in hustling away, getting more of those clients, working harder on those projects, if they’re, again, taking you further from where you want to be. So rather than that, you need to make sure that you’re at least carving out a little bit of time each week to build your brand, to clarify the vision, to begin to establish your credibility and authority with a different type of client and project, and so on, to really shift your business model in a different direction if that is what you want to do.
So it’s really a period again, of reflection now, at the end of the year, asking yourself those really difficult questions. Am I climbing the right ladder? Is the ladder up against the right wall or do I need to take a few steps back, and that can be frustrating, climb down a little bit, sideways maybe, to get a better view and see is this actually where I want to be? Of course, it can seem frustrating and you’ve worked so hard to get there. But of course, the fact that you’ve worked hard to get here now doesn’t really matter. I don’t want to draw a line through everything you’ve done. We want to celebrate and that’s admirable, and it’s fantastic, and it’s well deserved. However, who are you actually serving if you’re continuing to hustle away, work really hard, again, where you are now, if that’s not where you want to get to?
So, there’s nothing we can do now to change. We certainly don’t have to have any regrets about where we’ve got to so far. What we, of course, can do, what we can change, is now, what we’re going to do from today, from now on for the future. So yes, you know what? If we want to make a significant shift, if we want to leap to another ladder, if we want to, unfortunately, take a few steps down the ladder again and look for another ladder, if we need to retrain or re-qualify, if we’re going to build a business or a different kind of business, that’s going to take a lot of unravelling and unlearning, and relearning, and shaping a new type of business. But isn’t it take a lot longer if you don’t start now?
Again, lots of quotes today, but there’s the idea, the Chinese proverb, that “the best time to plant a tree was 100 years ago; second best time is today.”
I’m going to have to look at my notes to get this quote right, but from one of my favourites, it’s Lord of the Rings, “It’s the job that’s never started as takes longest to finish, as my old gaffer used to say,” from Sam Gamgee. So, you know what? If you don’t start now, then you’re definitely never going to get there, so there’s no rush. I’m not saying you need to now, right away, jump off that ladder and runaway to another one. By all means again, take this time, reflect really deeply, understand, “What’s the wall I’m up against right now? What am I going to see? How am I going to feel when I get to the top of that ladder? What is the view and is that the view that I want?”
If it is, then congratulations. That’s amazing. However, I think if you’re listening to this podcast, probably it’s not where you want it to be, and so that’s frustrating. It’s scary. But as I always say, scary tends to come along for the ride with exciting. So the question is really, what is the dream? As we asked last week. What if it all works out? So both, what if everything you’re working on right now works out? Is that where you want to be? And then, secondly, the bigger question, what is actually your longterm vision? What are your goals?
You may not have asked yourself or allowed yourself to ask those questions before in a while and it’s important to reflect, not all the time, but certainly now and then. I think once a year is a pretty good time to check in. Things may have changed. You may have loved your previous roles in the business, but now management has changed, priorities have shifted, your role has been evolved, restructured, and so on, and you’re no longer getting the value that you were before. Or you’ve just, you know what? You’ve been there for so long, that actually you’re not growing anymore.
We looked at that quite some time ago in terms of the signs that you’re ready to quit your job. Maybe you’ve stagnated or you’re living for the weekends, the evenings, the holidays, and so on. There are lots of reasons why you might be wanting to look elsewhere. But again, what are the goals for the long-term? And we’re not setting necessarily even specific SMART goals right now, we’re really just thinking and reflecting and feeling, as we did last week. “Where do I see myself in 10 years or more? Do I still see myself here where I am, albeit in a higher, more advanced position, if possible? Where am I living? Where am I spending my time? Who am I spending my time with?”
Maybe, if you’re today single, do you see yourself perhaps with a family and grandkids, and so on?
In which case, maybe you need to shift your priorities, shift what you’re doing. All these personal questions to, so yes, we’re focusing on work and career and so on, but really thinking as ever, holistically, all the different areas of your life. Do you want to live by the sea or do you want to stay in the city? Are you tying yourself to face-to-face clients who require you to travel in to their offices, commute around the country or internationally, and that’s just not where you want to be doing? It doesn’t work. It’s not compatible with a young family.
Or vice versa, are you tying yourself to your local clients and so on, but actually you want to be out and about and travelling and so on, so you want it to be more location independent; you want to have the options to travel, and so on, and work internationally, different time zones, working from home, and so on? So, all the questions that we’ve been asking recently, the criteria, the goals you have. What is the dream? What if it all works out? Again, continuing in that vein, reflecting on where is it you actually want to be and are the actions you’re taking right now getting you closer to that guiding star, that North Star, the ultimate dream? Or are the actions you’re taking or not taking, taking you further away?
So that’s the question I want to leave you with this week. Is your ladder leaning against the right wall? Thanks so much for listening and I’ll see you next week. Bye for now.
If you’re ready to start to reimagine what success could look like for you, here are some of the ways in which Anna can support you:
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