The career ladder: a poor metaphor

Last Sunday, I read an article called How to Improve Your Mindset. This paragraph jumped out at me:

We look down at people who climb the career ladder slowly (or not at all) because why would you not get to the top of a ladder as fast as possible? That’s the whole point of a ladder.

No, it’s not. The point of a ladder is not to get you the top of it as fast as possible. The point of a ladder is to give you temporary access to things you can’t reach from the ground.

Source. Notice how there is nothing at the top of the ladder. In a google image search for ‘climbing career ladder’, I didn’t find any pictures that showed a destination at the top of the ladder.

Ladders get you close to your goal, closer than you can get without them, but the top of the ladder isn’t a goal, and speed on the way up is rarely relevant. Being able to reach whatever it is you’re needing to fix is the goal, and to get there and back without injuring yourself.

If I’m changing a lightbulb, I have to use a ladder to reach the bulb but I have zero need to climb to the top of the ladder – I only need to go up the ladder far enough to reach the lightbulb. Likewise if I am using the ladder to paint my walls, or to get onto my roof to fix a leak. Reaching the top of the ladder is beside the point. Reaching the roof is the point. As is getting back down safely.

I only need to climb up a ladder the minimum distance required to enable my reach. I’m far better to NOT reach the top of the ladder. Almost every ladder comes with warnings about not standing on the top rungs because of their instability at height. Which might be worth pondering in relation to the career ladder.

When you go up a ladder, you almost always plan to come back down. Whatever you’re using the ladder for, it’s temporary. You don’t go up onto your roof and remain there for the rest of your life or until you retire. Having replaced the bulb, you don’t hang out up around the light fittings. It’s a short excursion to lofty heights, then you return to earth.

Point being, the ladder is just a  means to get us temporarily closer to something we want to fix. The top of the ladder is never the goal. Because there is nothing at the top of a ladder. Even the career ladder pictures show that.

It’s probably more important, as the saying goes, to make sure the ladder is against the right wall. And to think about when you will come back down.