What to do When You Don’t Want to Climb the Corporate Ladder

I strolled into my cubicle and took a sip of my soy latte before placing it on my desk and switching on my computer. The song “Have a Holly, Jolly Christmas” was stuck in my head, and I hummed a few notes as I hung up my coat and scarf.

While I waited for my computer to wake up, I thought about all the fun things I had on my to-do list for the day: choosing a cover for a new book, reviewing layouts, calling my favorite author for a brainstorming session, and lunch with a friend.

It was going to be a great day.

But then I looked across the hallway into my manager’s office.

She was hunched over her desk furiously editing a mound of papers. I noticed she was wearing the same blouse and trousers she had on the day before, as if she had been working all night. Sadly, this was common occurrence.

I remembered that she wasn’t at the office holiday party last week, and neither were the other 2 department managers. They missed out on the white elephant gift exchange, the music, laughter, and the cookies that the assistants had baked.

The managers were stressed out about completing all the end-of-year employee reviews. The employees were nervous about whether they’d get raises or (for the lucky ones) get promoted. My manager recently hinted that I was being groomed to move to the next level.

A sinking feeling came over me, and I realized I was nervous for a whole different reason.

I didn’t want this. Climbing the corporate ladder wasn’t for me.

And I didn’t feel so jolly anymore.

Most young women are expected to start and the bottom of the career totem pole and work their way up. We’re promised that if we work hard, then we’ll be the ones calling the shots someday. Our grandmothers fought for the right to be accepted in the workplace, so we’re obligated to achieve as much as we can.

Right?

But what are you supposed to do when advancing your career sounds like a miserable way to spend your life?

You can’t opt out of this career trajectory…can you?

Could you be fired for thinking this way? Will your colleagues and family look down on you? Does this mean you’re a bad role model for your kids?

Time out! Being a manager or supervisor isn’t for everyone, and the last thing you should do is take a position that makes you sick to your stomach.

Here’s exactly what you should do if you don’t want to climb the corporate ladder.

First, Are You Sure?

Hear me out. I’m not trying to dismiss your feelings. But it could be that you DO want to advance your career, but you don’t want to climb the corporate ladder at this company.

Maybe the position above you doesn’t seem exciting or the work that’s required seems too stressful. Maybe a promotion would require longer hours and lots of travel away from your family.

If the path you’re heading down at your current company doesn’t thrill you but you want to move to a higher-paid position, then you’ll have to look for openings at other companies.

I know that’s totally frustrating, but as many young professionals find out, if you want to move up, you might have to job hop. I outgrew 3 different companies in my 20s, and each time I had to switch to a new institution to find the passion and paycheck I was looking for.

If you’re happy at your current position but you’re getting pressure to move up to the next level, you’ll have to figure out how to present yourself as someone who’s a perfect fit right where you are…and not someone who’s becoming stagnant. We’ve all seen those ladies who work the menial jobs for 30 years and seem completely out of touch.

Why do You Want to Stay Put?

I know plenty of busy moms who have zero interest in becoming a manager or taking on more responsibility at work. They’ve got enough on their plates with their kids, afterschool activities, committees, family, and a hundred other things. There’s no way they want more drama at the office.

And that’s OK!

Go ahead and call me anti-feminist, but I believe there’s nothing wrong with being content with your current position. Too many women are pressured to do things in their lives that aren’t in their best interests—and I’m sick of it!

If you truly want to be a manager, then go for it. I’ll be cheering for you louder than anyone else. But if you want to stay right where you are because you’re able to handle your life without going insane, then don’t you dare climb that ladder.

Repeat after me: work-life balance, work-life balance, work-life balance…

When you advance to a higher position, you often won’t be doing the things that you loved about your old job. Instead of writing and designing, you’ll be stuck in meetings all day or doing employee reviews. Your work hours will mostly likely change too, so think long and hard about whether you’re willing to forego your evenings and weekends.

So Now What?

If you want to stay at your current position indefinitely, there are 3 things you must do:

  1. Be the best damn “fill in the blank” you can be.
  2. Stay relevant and grow within your position.
  3. Track all your accomplishments and keep a praise folder.

Be the Best

When you commit to your current position, that’s no time to become complacent or lazy. Your manager and peers might be confused as to why you don’t want to move up, so it’s your job to prove to them that you’re perfectly suited to your work.

Complete all your projects on time (obviously), go above and beyond when you can, and take pride in everything you do. No more “phoning it in.”

At the risk of sounding old school again, you should step up your appearance too. Dress professionally, do your hair and makeup, and put forth a polished presence.

Above all else, act and look like you want to be there…because you do.

Stay Relevant

Just because you’re staying put doesn’t mean there should be cobwebs on your brain. Your colleagues might think you’re getting too comfortable unless you can prove to them that you’re still connected with what’s going on at the company.

This means taking as many training classes as you can (bonus if your company pays for them!), joining low-commitment teams or volunteer groups (such as the “Bike to Work” committee), and attending board meetings or other company events to get your face out there.

You might be out of the manager track, but you should never be out of the loop.

Track Everything

This is the same tactic I use with my clients who are asking for raises. I assume you still want a annual raise, right? Well, you’ll need to back it up if your job responsibilities don’t change from year to year.

Start a Word document or Excel file for all your accomplishments. When you finish a task or project that directly or indirectly affects the company, add it to your file. It’s probably a good idea to do this every day right before you go home. Consider adding extra information such as the time it took to complete the task or anything you did to make the process run smoothly.

Also, create another folder for all the recognition you receive during the year. I like to call this a praise folder. When a client sends you a nice thank you note, stick it in there. Add any emails where your manager or another higher-up praises your work, but make sure it’s something like “Your PowerPoint presentation looked amazing and saved us hours of time!” rather than “Good job. Thanks.”

At your next review, you’ll be able to show that your work is meaningful and other people in the company appreciate your contributions. And that kind of justification is what managers look for when doling out raises.

Have you ever felt like you didn’t want to move up the corporate ladder?

In the comments below, share where you are in your career and what you want to happen in the future.

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Comments

  1. says

    This is such great words Sage. I love that this is your voice. Encouraging and inspiring women but not necessarily in the way that we feel like the world says is the only way. I recently had a conversation about success with another blogger and it was interesting to hear her view of what a successful blogger was. Here we were given the same opportunity yet I was so far behind her under her success rating. It made me realize that my voice, that is a lot similar to yours, proved itself right in this situation. I can have the same opportunities and “success” in a way that I define it but it doesn’t look one certain way. Thank you for encouraging women to find their voice…their purpose…their dream jobs and life…because it needs to be heard. We can have a life that we love.

    • says

      Thank you so much, Ashley! I really admire the way you write too. I think there’s a lot of people out there telling women who they should be and what they should aspire to do. But it’s got to come from within ourselves because chasing someone else’s dream won’t make us happy. I enjoyed my time in the corporate world, and I was happy to stop climbing at the point that felt right to me.

  2. says

    Sage, this article spoke to me. I’ve been working in corporate IT since 1997. I loved it when I got into it. After all, I had been building computers as a hobby, buying cases, motherboards, hard drives, etc., and putting them all together. But over the years, the constant demands to move up and make more money have worn me down. And IT itself changes so often, with every new release of Windows or Office or whatever other big software package that a company uses.

    At the beginning of 2013, I had a two and a half month period of unemployment from the corporate IT job, and I had the time of my life. My days were free, and I gave my name and number to every art teacher I could find. I modeled for drawing classes at several different schools. I had always modeled since 1984, but I normally had to confine my modeling to evening or weekend classes. I loved being able to model, and I long for a day when I could just do it full time.

    Unfortunately, I have a wife, two kids, a mortgage, and a host of other bills, and I need to generate a certain amount of income to live. Art modeling just wouldn’t do that. During the semesters, the most hours I would get would be about 3o per week, with all the driving I would have to do between schools. And with all the breaks in the school schedule, Thanksgiving, Christmas, spring break, and summer, I could never make enough money. So I took a job that I knew I would hate but that paid enough to live on.

    I was right; I do hate my job. I get to be constantly micro-managed, and for the calendar year of 2014 I’ll get an entire one week of vacation time to take off. But we are paying bills and cutting our expenses. I’m working on a novel that I hope will generate enough income to allow me to quit my IT job. All of this because I want to love what I do. I love writing, and it would be wonderful if I could get even a halfway decent publishing deal. But more than that, I love being a nude model for art classes. I get to be me, without the clothes or the pretensions or the politics.

    I was on someone’s Facebook page the other day, and I went to my profile. The first thing I saw under my name was Tech Support Analyst at my current company. That’s not how I want to identify myself, so, when I logged in as myself, I added Model at Art Classes to my job list. That’s how my Facebook shows up now. That’s me.

  3. says

    Sage this was a great post! I can relate %100. When I worked at McD’s, I was promoted to manager. Then I was promoted to 2nd assistant manager. I soon started to hate my life. Too much pressure, the money was not worth it.

  4. says

    Sage, you are so spot on with the praise folder.

    As a manager, time and again, I would read evaluations from people that did not illustrate what they accomplished. Even if it did, it did not tell the most important part of the story…the impact to the company.

    I’ll share a little known secret.

    Managers WANT their employees to advance. It makes them look good. We go to bat with other managers for our employees. BUT, we need to be able to talk about your accomplishments in terms that the VP would understand. WIIFM (What’s in it for me?) is not just a station that consumers listen to. Your managers and higher ups want to know what you’ve done for them lately.

  5. says

    The corporate world in general sounds so miserable to me. I’m definitely the kind of person that would like to have my own business and be my own boss one day. I do think that there is a lot of really valuable info here in the meantime too while I’m stuck working for someone else. I love the idea of tracking your accomplishments. Even if I don’t use it at my current job it would certainly help while sprucing up my resume!

    • says

      Hey Sarah! You totally don’t seem like the corporate type, and I mean that as a compliment. :) I’d love to see you start your own business or get into some other creative field. I never completely disliked the corporate world, but I wanted to work for myself even more. My praise/recognition folder was super helpful whenever I was job hunting because I could use the letters and emails as recommendations.

  6. says

    I’m at a full-time job now, but looking to start an online business in 2014. But, since I’m still working, I need to keep track of the things I’m doing both in my current job and accomplishments with my online business.

    I love the idea of writing down your accomplishments each day because I tend to do that once a year (if that!). This usually means I’ve forgotten a lot of things! :( However, I do collect customer testimonials in a file. This serves two purposes: as a pick me up when feeling down about what I’m doing and for use when I do have my job review.

    Thanks for the reminder to document the other aspects of work!!

    • says

      Hey Jennifer! :) That’s awesome!!! I love your website, and I could see your business taking off fast. You have such good info and you make it really easy to understand for non-techy people (like me!).

      Yeah, I used to not keep track of my accomplishments and then I would forget everything when it was review time. When you add to your file regularly, you’ll be amazed by how much you actually get done. Everything adds up!

  7. says

    This is a great idea! I’m currently doing something similar, a sort of business journal where I keep track of “goals” and “accomplishments” but not recognition. I’m going to implement that as well for added motivation and inspiration as well for when my resume needs sprucing up!

    • says

      Hi Christine! Thanks for stopping by. Yep, a praise/recognition folder is a great way to stay motivated at your current job, justify a raise or promotion, or get references when you’ll looking for a new job. I flip through my praise folder once a week to remind me why I do the work I do.

  8. says

    Oh my – this could have and should have been written for me years ago. I was promoted and promoted until I was a director at a Fortune 250 company with 25 people reporting to me and a portfolio of $21 million. I had hit the big time for what I do. And I HATED IT. Every blessed minute. I cried on my way to work and on my way home. When my boss confronted me about not doing X, I told him I was working 14 hours a day – what did he want from me? His response? “Work 16″. At that moment I told the universe that I was done…get me out. A month later I quit that job to go sell movie tickets at the Sundance Film Festival. Best thing I ever did. Now I am back in that same field but I know what I don’t want. I also have learned years later – I don’t want any of this which is why I am working to make changes but yes, you don’t have to keep climbing. It’s ok to love what you do right where you are!

    • says

      Holy moley, that sounds like a miserable job, Amanda! What a terrible boss. It doesn’t seem like he cared about his employees’ well-being at all. I’m glad you got out of that toxic work environment. Selling movie tickets at Sundance seems really fun and fulfilling (I’m a huge movie fan). My favorite job, besides being a life coach of course, was nude modeling for the art department in college. But when I was in the corporate world, I learned to recognize when I needed to stay put.

      • says

        It was awful! It was a shame – it was a really neat company and then it was purchased by a huge company and they destroyed all of the fun startupness of the old place. It did teach me a lot though!

        My fav job ever was being an admin assistant at a retirement community and that was so much about the people I worked with – that makes a huge difference!.

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