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Why Climbing the Corporate Ladder Sucks

Corporate LadderEnlightened folks like to get all Zen-like and talk about how the journey is everything in life and the destination is, well, overrated. Okay. So, what do you say we lose all the BS and actually be honest with ourselves for a minute. Don't be afraid; it's just you and me here and I'm the only one who's identifying himself by name.

Let's start with a simple counterexample, just so you know we're not fooling around here. How about, oh, finding your spouse, soul-mate, life-partner, whatever you want to call it. I've been around a long time and I've known a lot of people. And nobody, not a single person, has ever said, "oh yeah, dating was great; I loved it."

That's because dating, i.e. the journey or process by which you find your spouse, sucks. It's a universal truth. See, lousy journey, great result, at least half the time, anyway.

Now, let's talk about climbing the corporate ladder. For most of us, it sucks. Why is that? Oh, I don't know, maybe it's got something to do with all the politicking, backstabbing, butt-kissing, ass-covering, BSing, sugar-coating, whining, ego-worshipping, and self-promoting that goes on.

Not that I'm down on people, but let's face it, we don't always get along so well, do we? I mean, the average workplace is a veritable Petri dish of conflict and dysfunctional behavior. It's a wonder anything gets done at all. Really.

But people aren't the only problem. It's not as if you just hop off the turnip truck and somebody hands you a briefcase, a fat paycheck, and a handful of first-class upgrades and says, "Welcome to the club, we've been waiting for you." You've got to fight your way up every rung of that ladder, for every promotion, every raise, every interview process, even just for the recognition.

And if you're a reasonably driven individual, there's a lot of uncertainty over which path to take. Do you put up with an a-hole boss and wait for him to self-destruct, or strike out for greener pastures elsewhere? Do you stick with the functional area you're trained in even though you're not in love with it, or take a chance on a new direction? Plenty of anxiety there.

And while reaching the top and being a senior-level executive is by no means a panacea, it's heaven by comparison. Anyone who says it isn't is blowing a ridiculous amount of smoke up your you-know-what. The pay, the perks, the respect, it's all good. Sure, there's plenty of stress, but at least for me, no more so than I had on the way up.

And while there are indeed a few who manage to complete the journey only to crash and burn when they reach the top - BP's Tony Hayward and Yahoo's Jerry Yang come to mind - they're the exception, not the rule.

All that said, just because a journey sucks doesn't mean it isn't worth it or it isn't a rite of passage we all must endure. After all, you learn through experience and there really is no yin without the yang, right? In any case, here are 10 things I've learned that may help to make your climb just a little bit lighter:

  1. High expectations only make it hurt more when you fall.
  2. Most stress comes from within, so when you're feeling it, that's the first place to look.
  3. Don't try to be something you're not. Be genuine.
  4. Failure really does make you better and stronger. No kidding.
  5. If you're driven and Type-A, tone it down; if you're somewhat of a doormat, get tough.
  6. Think of it as a marathon, not a sprint. Pace yourself.
  7. Take business seriously, but not yourself.
  8. Never forget where you came from; humility comes in handy from time to time.
  9. Don't overindulge in your successes or beat yourself up over your failures.
  10. Try to have empathy for those who make it difficult. We're really all the same.
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Image courtesy CC 2.0 via Flickr user degreezero2000
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