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.
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:
- Be the best damn “fill in the blank” you can be.
- Stay relevant and grow within your position.
- 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.
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.
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.
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