There’s a real misconception about business and career progression. The common expectation is that it’s an upward trajectory. To be considered a success, we must climb and grow significantly year on year.
I mean let’s face it, we’d all love for that to be true but for 85% of the population it’s not. So why do we set this unrealistic expectation? Why do we need to climb the corporate ladder? Why does business growth need to exceed the previous years to classify as a successful year?
If I reflect on my own career path in corporate, I went up, sideways, up, sideways, up and then out! The sideways moves were to consolidate and learn, to acquire new skills, to observe and grow as an individual to give myself the best possible chance of success when I did go for that next promotion. I’d love to say I deliberately orchestrated those moves however I wasn’t that ‘tuned in’ when my career happened to me. I was lucky to have clarity on what I wanted, was able to communicate that to my leaders and fortunate enough to have some good mentors and leaders (certainly not all).
As time has gone on and business has become more competitive, demanding and chaotic, the pressure seems to have intensified to do better, achieve more, innovate, create and do so much more with less and with what seems to be less time.
Sheryl Sandberg, author of ‘Lean In’ says “Careers are a jungle gym. Not a ladder.” And I couldn’t agree more. I also think the same about small and medium business. As business grows it will suffer growing pains, there will be times when business needs to rein it in and consolidate. It might need to strengthen the foundations to ensure it can sustain future growth. There may be a need to restructure in order to future proof so internal operations become the priority rather than the external revenue activities. There are a myriad of reasons why the upward growth trajectory doesn’t occur and we need to get some perspective on this and release the pressure valve.
Given that the rate of mental health disorders are increasing rapidly and 1 in 6 people in Australia will suffer depression, we need to disrupt the expectation of and perception of success. In some cases a jungle gym approach is completely acceptable. And even more than that, a necessity.
If you think about a jungle gym, you’re up, down and sideways. There are obstacles in the way of getting to the top but it’s fun, it’s challenging and it’s ok to take stock and have a breather and assess strategy on the more level planks that take you from side to side.
I’m all for challenge, I’m all for growth and I’m certainly all for success. But I do question the relentless pressure we put on ourselves to get to the top and fast and how sustainable this really is. We need to get some perspective on this.