Definition of Inadvertent: not resulting from or achieved through deliberate planning.
This post isn’t intended to come off as a humble brag in any way, just providing a snapshot on my inner dialogue on worthiness as I progress through life. I’m sure there are other people who have rised or are rising through their career never really intending to, and not sure what it really means as part of the bigger tapestery of their life. That’s where I’m at today.
I never intended to be a corporate ladder climber, and still don’t see myself as one. But the truth is I am, and I have mixed emotions about it. I feel a lot of people strive to climb the ladder. achieve. rise to the top. For me, I want to do a good job in my role. That’s it. Work smart. Work hard if need be, but mostly work smart and be efficient in my role. Key credos in my work and personal life have been 1) Help others accomplish their goals 2) Be a good steward to the environment and 3) Build and maintain relationships. If I do those three simple things, I’m usually happy.
I’ve had many different jobs over the years. I babysat for money in middleschool, worked as a busboy, a dishwasher. I worked for the Postal Service. I was a waiter, made sub sandwiches, was a dorm resident adviser, got paid for making copies in an academic department. I drove a delivery truck, did telemarketing, sorted library books. I spent time logging info on a drill rig, working with concrete, and working in several different labs. Today I’m a white collar low level manager in my firm, but am being groomed as the vice president-elect for our very profitable department of about 20 people in a firm of nearly 300.
In all my years of work, I’ve never asked for a promotion. Certainly I haven’t always loved my job, but I sucked it up and made the most of it. Some of my favorite jobs were the most menial. The delivery truck driver was great. This type of menial physical work flows into my free time these days, volunteering for trail building activities which are nearly entirely labor intensive and not brain intensive. It’s not like I ever told any of my bosses that I wanted more responsibility, it has always been given to me, but also meshed with where I was at any given time. It was like a smooth car transmission, smoothly shifting from one gear and stage of career to another, with barely a perceptible difference. I was always ready and always made a smooth transition to that next phase, despite feeling Impostor Syndrome at first with every new role.
But on any given step along the way, I never had the ambition or goal to keep climbing the ladder, it just sort of happened and I’ve gone with the flow. Taking the money part out of the equation, I wouldn’t say things are any better or worse, happier or more stressed, for me along the way. You sort of get used to the additional responsibility, like a frog slowly gets used to the heat in the boiling pot. I’m a fairly happy person, but has bouts of melancholy along the journey. On reflecting back, the general ratios of job satisfaction to stress/anxiety/dissatisfaction have remained similar except towards the end of my previous job where life truly sucked. If you have a job that you truly hate, even a well paying one, you HAVE to find a way to get out. The impacts on your health and happiness and relationships all can be so caustic from the cancer of work that it can derail what a well led life should be. But I digress…
In a year or three I’ll likely be handed the keys to the car, and while I’ll take them, it’s not an ambition of mine to be a company VP. If that comes to fruition, I’d continue to do a good job in my role and take satisfaction in doing that, but I feel like I should really have more passion to be able to step into that role. Isn’t that what they show in those business magazines and what the television shows indicate? That climbing the ladder is the end-all, be-all of career goals? Before my boss was a VP, he was pretty consumed with becoming one and the responsibility and power and perception that came with it. Not much has changed 8 years later. He’s from a different generation and is a company man, gets his personal worth from work and his role within the company (and not from any hobbies of any sort, including his family who I don’t get the impression he likes much). I’m the opposite – work is a means to an end, and an early retirement.
The whole situation is slightly amusing to me. Smart guy who just wants to do a good job keeps finding himself with more pay, more responsibility, but same level of stress. I don’t work many extra hours. My job is fairly easy for me and the tricky, challenging days are what makes it fun sometimes. I’ve gotten by on being a decent people-person, decent communicator, and doing my job (a Belichick requirement to play for him; “Just do your job!” I love that philosophy). I guess I’m winning. The vacuum that exists with ambitious or talented staff in any company will dictate your advancement. For me, there’s not much else out there. Another peer at the same level may actually want the position, but he hasn’t played well with other staff and isn’t taking the necessary steps to advance within our internal opportunities. It is like he is simply deferring to me, which is fine since it provides job security. I wonder if the lack of career ambition is a generational thing. Our millenials coming up through the ranks haven’t been very likely to grab on to project management or other promotions, preferring to enjoy a less stressful role with less control over their personal situation but more personal freedom. I get that, and I feel as a Gen X’er I’m somewhere in the middle. I’m not advancing my career kicking and screaming, but sometimes pine for the simpler roles I’ve held.
So until that day I hit the lottery and spend my time helping the world in other ways, I guess this is my life. If you can’t tell, I’m not passionate about the work part of it. Like most, work is work. Some days are fun, and most of the people I work with are solid. But they also act like my daughters 6th grade classmates with way more drama and side-bitching than is necessary. Some days are not so fun, and very occasionally I hate my job duties. I know for a fact that most corporate drones feel similar. They don’t find their purpose in their work, and like me, look at it as a means to and end. And that is ok, provided you do have passion in your life somewhere.
This post really has no point except to show that not every Boss man wants to be there, or have great or lofty ambitions to step on people to get there. On the flip side, some people who get passed over for promotions probably don’t care that much – it keeps life simpler in some ways. For me, I find my passions and gratitude in many places. I’ve continued working on Book #2 again after a hiatus. I’m volunteering more and lifting (these days doing 3×5 deads at 325# on a hex bar that I can’t fit more weight) and running (did a half-marathon with my wife a couple weeks ago). Reading and listening to tons of podcasts, figuring if we want to pull the trigger on a rental property, and about a dozen other things. And really loving family life. So much gratitude for happy, smart, healthy kids and a good wife.
That’s ultimately what most of our goals are about: having “enough” with the least amount of stress and the most amount of happiness in life. We are doing our best to find that sweet spot, and at the same saving to become financially independent on our terms sooner than most. I suppose this is the life that I’m attracting, whether or not it’s conscious or not.
One final thought if you’ve stuck with me on this ramble thus far. One of my favorite coaching questions are”What would you do if you know you couldn’t fail?” Or “If money were no object, and the thrill of the vacations and consumption has warn off, how would you spend your days?” When you make a list of a few items, it helps guide you. I like the idea of living “as if.” That is “as if” you’ve already gotten your stache of money and are doing the things that you think will bring you joy: maybe more volunteer work, or fixing up an old truck, or giving back by being a part of the Town Board, or learning to play piano because you’ve always wanted to. I’ve taken that idea to heart and am trying to live the life of my dreams given my real life circumstances. That has helped shift my Mindset and my happiness has risen, and I’ve felt more fulfilled as a result. And my job title doesn’t really even move the needle in that regard. My income is “enough,” and because of that allows me to write the rest of the narrative of how I want to live an abundant life outside of work.
Best of luck on your journey.