A couple of years ago, my friend and line manager announced she was having a baby. With that, came an opening in the team to cover her while she was off on maternity leave.
A number of people, both from within the department and from our circle of friends at work, questioned my next step.
“I take it you’ll be applying for Emma’s maternity?” they asked.
“I heard Emma’s pregnant. It’s a good opportunity for you to step up to the next level.”
“You’d be great covering Emma while she’s off.”
Now, here’s the thing. It didn’t even occur to me to apply for the role, until people started suggesting it to me. And even then, I decided not to put in an application. I’ve found there’s this assumption. An expectation that everyone is looking for the next opportunity to climb the ladder, to reach the next stage, to have more responsibility, more money, perhaps a fancier-sounding title. But not everyone is.
The reason I didn’t apply isn’t because I don’t think I’m qualified, or experienced, or knowledgeable, or capable of leading a team. I didn’t apply because, quite simply, it’s not what I want.
I work in a marketing role that gives me the opportunity to do the things I’m good at, and the things I enjoy. I write content and copy, I manage events, and I deliver creative campaigns from inception through to completion. Ultimately, I want to be writing full-time; articles, blog posts, short stories, and novels. The work I do for my current role far better aligns with the direction I want my career to take.
What I don’t want to do, is manage a team of full-time staff. Time spent managing a team would be time spent not doing the technical work I enjoy. It’s just not how I want to spend my days. But everyone who assumed I’d be applying seemed flummoxed by the idea that it wasn’t something I wanted. “But isn’t that the next step? You’d be great!” they protested.
Maybe I would, maybe I wouldn’t. But it doesn’t matter. If it’s not going to make me happy, or get me to where I want to be, I’m not going to do it. Even if it is what society expects. It’s not the next step for me.
I’ve known for a long time that I’m not interested in climbing the corporate ladder. And for a while, I thought I was perhaps lacking ambition. But I’ve realised as I’ve got older, that that’s not the case at all.
I do have ambitions. I want to be a Sunday Times bestselling author. I want to walk into Waterstones and see my book on the shelf. I want to go on holiday and see someone reading something I’ve written while they lay on the beach soaking up the sun. You might even say my ambitions are possibly greater than those of someone imagining themselves as “Director of Marketing.”
So I will be climbing a ladder. It just won’t be the ladder in the office, like everyone expects.
In the words of Thomas Merton, “People may spend their whole lives climbing the ladder of success only to find, once they reach the top, that the ladder is leaning against the wrong wall.”
I want to make sure I’m on the right wall.