The ladder is the most enduring metaphor for career advancement, yet it is no longer constructive to think of your career progression as climbing a ladder.

In the ladder metaphor, you ascend one rung at a time, progressing in your career through a series of milestones. At each rung, you work hard on what you are doing at the moment. You forget about that next step because you're sure you'll get there when the right time comes, without encountering any obstacles.

You fall into complacency.

Then something happens. Perhaps you make it happen:

  • You realize one day that you feel bored and unchallenged. You know there is more to work and crave greater fulfillment.

  • You want more responsibility. You find what you are doing routine and know you are capable of a greater challenge.

  • You decide you want more pay. After all, if you are going to put up with the high pressure of getting campaigns out on time, you want to ensure you will be compensated for it.

  • You feel an urge to try something new. You know it's now or never if you are going to make a change.

  • You realize that you've had your fill of a nasty boss or an uncomfortable organizational culture. Life's too short to deal with an environment that stomps all over your personal values.

Perhaps the something comes from outside your control:

  • Your company decides it's time to "right-size." Mergers and acquisitions, soft markets, shareholder pressure, and numerous other events make layoffs a common part of today's world of work. Even companies that are doing well feel the need to "resize" from time to time.

  • The product you're working on gets canceled. Let's face it, we live in a disposable economy. What's hot one day (think of the low-fat diet) is replaced by the latest craze (eliminating evil simple carbohydrates, for example). Who would have ever thought that IBM would sell its ThinkPad business to Lenovo?

  • The industry you work in is hit by a destructive scandal. Think Enron, Arthur Anderson, or Airbus.

  • Your manager leaves the company, taking several team members with her, and the company decides to eliminate your job.

Only when that something happens do you think about that next rung in your career ladder. You revise your resume (which you haven't even looked at since you got your current job), reconnect with lost professional contacts, and so forth.

You expend enormous effort connecting with marketing recruiters, writing cover letters, refining your career marketing materials, searching through job boards—all the fallback methods that people used back when the world of work was predictable.

Well, it's not your father's IBM anymore.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
image of William Arruda

William Arruda is a personal branding pioneer, the founder and CEO of Reach Personal Branding, and the author of Ditch. Dare. Do! 3D Personal Branding for Executives.

Twitter: @williamarruda

LinkedIn: William Arruda