I was recently a part of a conversation between two lovely gentlemen, we will call them Larry and Ben. Larry, an older man, very well established in the business community was giving young Ben some well-intended advice. Larry’s parting words to Ben were, “keep working your way up that ladder, son.” Ben puffed up his shoulders, slapped a convincing grin on his face and answered with a hearty, “yes, I plan to, sir!”
Larry walked away. Ben turned to me, rolled his eyes, let out a huge sigh and said “What a joke; I’m not climbing up anyone’s ladder.”
I’ve been thinking about that moment a lot. We are all on a ladder, working our way towards some end. The idea of “the ladder,” is a good one, but is need of a modern interpretation.
Historically, the idea of climbing the ladder has been used to describe advancing in the hierarchy of a large business. In recent years, climbing the ladder implies that a person is “moving up,” by growing in whatever their work may be. It used to mean a move from a lower position, to a higher paying one. Now, it means a vertical or linear advancement that gets one closer to his or her goal.
Let’s look at three ways to approach whatever ladder we are on:
1. Direction: Where is your ladder taking you? It would surprise you how many people are stumped by this question. When climbing the ladder, whether it is our own, or someone else’s, we should be clear about what is at the top for us. What is it you want to accomplish by doing the work you’re doing? Maybe it’s becoming a partner at your firm, or maybe it’s to learn new skills before heading in a different direction. Either way, in order to work well and work with intention, you must have a clear idea of what the end of the ladder you’re on looks like.
2.Integrity: Have you ever climbed up a tall ladder? What are two things you need to prevent a fall? A stable structure to lean on and stability at the base. Once you have decided on your ladder, look at who built it, who is maintaining it and what they are leaning it on. How is your ladder used to benefit others? You should feel confident about your climb if the makeup of the ladder is reliable and respectable. There are many ladders out there and the ones that are worth your efforts should be stable.
3. Size: You’ve decided on a ladder, and confirmed that it’s a safe situation. This is the one area everyone needs to consider at different times of his or her climb: is the ladder so big that you won’t have the energy to get to the end? We must identify what we want at the end, and then divide the rungs into small sections, each taking us to smaller, achievable goals. This will help us have sustainable momentum and a smoother climb. When we experience the fruit of our hard work, we are more inclined to keep going.
Everyone wants to feel that they are in control of what they do. Keep in mind that any work you are doing is good for growth and learning. Taking inventory of what ladder you’re on, how it’s built and how to approach it will keep you clear-minded and confident.