Lesson from a Step Ladder

When you reach the top rung in a job, it’s time to find the next step — somewhere else.

The Backstory

The late fall and early winter months must make people think about their futures more often than usual. The December-January transition triggers something in us to think about where we’re going and how we’re going to get there; as as result, people tend to think about their careers.

As I’ve mentioned in my Lesson from a Wild Mushroom story, you always have to look about for “number one” a.k.a. yourself, because other than God, who is going to do it better than you? And, maybe your mom.

Always keeping an eye out and building your talent for your next adventure is required nowadays. Too many people think their employer will do it for them, and yet, those who think that way will only get so far up the career ladder — their ladder only has a couple steps.

The Object

I get it… not every ladder needs to be big, heavy, and have lots of rungs to get the job done. Sometimes a small ladder is all that is needed.

Just like the one I keep open in my garage. It has two steps and a third to top it off, which helps me reach the cabinets above my workbench.

It’s filthy, most-likely an antique, and was found at a garage sale, because the previous owner didn’t want it anymore. It served its purpose for that person, and now it serves me.

I’m content with the small ladder in the garage, because it’s doing it’s job and doesn’t get in the way. BUT…

Short ladders have limitations.

I can’t use the little ladder to reach above my cabinets, hang up all of my tools, or rely on it to hold my balance when I’m standing on the very top. The little ladder did great in the beginning to reach my first set of cabinets, but it didn’t have enough push me higher.

I need a bigger ladder.

I invested in the ladder of all ladders… the Little Giant. The best ladder there is and the one I trust to lift me up. Not only is it versatile in becoming a step ladder of various heights (or two small ladders!), it can turn into a straight extension ladder.

Little Giant Ladder Systems are amazing.

With this ladder, I can reach everything I want to… that is, before my fear of heights kicks in! And, with this ladder, two people can be on it at the same time, so I could bring someone up with me. I’ve had the ladder for more than 10 years, and it still works like new.

In my garage, there’s a place and purpose for both the old 3-step ladder and the multi-purpose ladder… side-by-side.

The Lesson

As I oddly thought about the metaphor this little ladder represented and what my Little Giant Ladder enabled me to do, I immediately connected it to my work, professional development, and career path.

In a previous job, I was able to accomplish some organizational-wide changes in about 3 years. I was at a point of needing to review the work I had already done in the spirit of continuous improvement, which is constant in the online marketing world.

Doing the same work over again, wasn’t helping me step up to the next rung. I needed to keep learning, growing, and expanding my experience, but there was no place for me to go.

I was standing on the top of the step ladder looking up with no way to get from here to there.

In another previous job, I accomplished significant milestones in the organization’s online portfolio and engagement efforts in about 5 years. I felt like I built all I could for the organization, so it was all downhill from there again… maintenance tasks and incremental improvements. Blah.

Over time, new employees came in and felt the need to change things for change sake, so they broke processes and projects… not paying attention to any historical lessons learned… and certainly not asking “why” things existed the way they did. I got the point of feeling irritated by fixing problems I already fixed.

I needed to keep growing, stay healthy, and advance my professional experience with more well-rounded opportunities.

I was standing on the top of the step ladder looking around seeing no one.

Know when it’s time to leave

In both job positions, I became aware of my situation and where I was standing on my ladder.

It was time to trade in my little ladder for a bigger one. The old, wooden ladder for the aluminum, versatile ladder.

It’s a big deal to change ladders, but it’s important to realize when you should climb down one ladder, so you can climb up a bigger one.

The Take-aways

  • What got you here won’t necessarily get you there.
  • Know what rung of the career ladder you’re on.
  • Climb up or step down… either way, a new ladder may just be what you need to reach higher.
  • Don’t forget about the little, old ladder that got you where you are; at the same time, don’t let it stop you from getting a bigger, newer one.

Unfortunately, there’s no magic formula to say when a bigger ladder is needed or when the existing ladder just needs repaired, i.e. when you need a new job or just need to seek expanded opportunities in your current one.

The trick is building enough self-awareness to know that you SHOULD be standing on a ladder and KNOW what rung you are on. This way, you’ll know where you stand and can be careful stepping down.

Written by Shaun Holloway.