Career Advice

November 2, 2012

It's a career ladder, not an escalator

It's a career ladder, not an escalator


While I'm watching television, the remote control occasionally gets knocked off the couch, presenting an epic quandary.

Do I get up and retrieve the remote, disrupting my carefully crafted comfort zone? Or do I wait for a family member — or a particularly nimble house pet — to come by and hand it to me?

This dire dilemma mirrors the choices many of us face with our careers. Do we take action, or do we wait for someone to come and give us what we want? Unfortunately, too many people choose the passive route.

“People act as if their career is just happening to them,” says Kathy Caprino, a career coach and founder of a program called “The Amazing Career Project.” “It doesn’t just happen to you, you manage it.”

The corporate ladder is not an escalator — it requires effort to climb. Yet many people get into a job and assume that advancement comes automatically. If that were ever true, it’s certainly not the case now.

“What I see most of the time is the fact that people are scared,” says Roshni Kumar, an international career coach and founder of Career Lighthouse. “They’re afraid to be introspective, because that’s a path that can be overwhelming.”

Caprino offers some tips on how to sort out where you stand and where you should be going.

Know yourself. You need to step back and reflect — honestly — on what it is you want out of your work life. What values are important to you? What do you think are your best skills? What kind of legacy do you want to leave?

Study. Whether you’re happy or unhappy, keep studying the field you’re in so you know what opportunities exist and can develop a sense of your worth. It’s good to interact with different people in the industry, whether it’s online or in person. That keeps you looped in with what’s happening outside your company and gives you contacts if you decide — or are forced — to switch jobs.

Get feedback. Figure out how your colleagues think you’re doing. It doesn’t hurt to ask for some honest feedback from the people who manage you or those you manage.

Take the test. Take a good, hard look at your emotions. Do you get to Sunday night and dread going to work the next day? Are you disengaged? Those are solid signs you need to figure out how to transition into something that fits you better. It’s not going to happen on its own.

These are not easy things to do. We don’t like exiting a comfort zone.

Kumar suggests that people first do something simple they know will inspire them. For some, it might be reading a book; for others, listening to music. Even taking a short trip can get your mind moving in new directions.

Her point: We sometimes need to prime the pump before our brains are ready to tackle deep issues. However you do it, just start. Look at your career and make some decisions about where you want to see it go.

Caprino advises that every six months you ask, “Is this where I want to be? If not, what can I do about it?”

You might be thinking, “Yeah, easy to say, but my boss won’t listen if I want to do something different”; or, “I can’t shake the boat at work right now, because there’s no way I’d find another job.”

Let’s return to the parable of the dropped television remote. If I get up to get that remote, bad things could happen. I could fall off the couch. The dog could try to steal my seat.
But if I just wait around for one of my kids to come along, imagine how much great television I might be missing.

The point is, I always want to be in control of the TV. And you should always want to be in control of your career.

Because even if you’re not ready to change the channel just yet, it’s good to know you have the remote firmly in your hand.

Rex Huppke writes for the Chicago Tribune. Send him questions by email at

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