Career progression: Is the only way to go up?

As a Recruiter, whenever I ask candidates about their reasons for wanting to explore career opportunities, I can usually group their responses into three. In this article, I will focus on one reason: career progression. 

I find that progression is a goal that’s typical among mid-level candidates. Most of them have a specific vision of what they want: to move up to a Manager job title or people management role, command a certain salary level, etc.I don’t oppose this ambition at all. In fact, it was once my dream to be Team Leader / Manager,  and was on my way there. As mid-level executives, we want to establish ourselves as an authority in our field, we want to build families and provide for them, we want to achieve a certain stature, we want to prove ourselves (to our selves or other people) that we “made it”. All these motivations are valid for me. 

Years ago, an interviewer told me that career progression happens in two ways: vertically (rising up the ranks) or horizontally (becoming a specialist) . Reflecting on my journey in the last two years, I can now come out and say that I’ve changed course and progressing horizontally. I now know that my strength lies in making other people’s lives better or easier ,as well as working with people one on one basis. It’s a road less travelled, and I’m learning that this path is not bad at all. 

I believe that we’ve been programmed to think that in our career, the only way to go is up. In reality, this is not always the case.  Growth does not simply equate to having  the title of a leader or head. If you don’t have the charisma, commercial acumen or people skills for it, it’s ok. If there are other priorities in your life other than to conquer the corporate ladder, that’s also ok.You can contribute through your expertise, through mentoring, or simply doing your best at what you do — hopefully affecting others positively with your best effort. 

In one of Adam Grant’s podcast episodes, I picked up that we must think our careers are like marathons, not sprints. The progress we should be looking at is your own and not other people’s. We must recognise and respect that we have our own journeys and own timelines.

If you are a mid-career professional and have yet to reach certain aspirations, don’t beat yourself up. Especially during this time, when many people’s careers are put on hold or disrupted.  Be more considerate of yourself and your situation, re-calibrate and re-time your goals. You will get there, perhaps a little while longer… and that’s alright. 

Which stage of career are you at now? Do you prefer to progress vertically or horizontally? 

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