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Advice / Succeeding at Work / Getting Ahead

3 Hard Truths About Moving Up the Ladder (and How to Handle Them)

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Early in my career, all I ever wanted was to become a manager.

I had my fair share of jobs outside my field, but landed my first “real” job as an editorial assistant after graduating college. It was my foot in the door to kick off my career, and all I knew was that I wanted to “move up” from there (even though I had no idea what that looked like outside of my head).

Fast forward to a couple of roles later, I finally landed the coveted title of “manager.” However, my path to “moving on up” didn’t turn out like I’d imagined: Instead of a steady climb up the ladder, it was more like an American Ninja Warrior obstacle course.

There were some things I encountered that the bright-eyed and bushy-tailed version of me never considered and no one ever warned me about.

If you’re on the same path to becoming a leader, get ready to prepare for some of these things to happen.

1. Your Hold on Time Gets Trickier

The reward for getting promoted is more work—point blank. I found out the hard way that as I moved higher up the ladder, other things went up, too.

There are the positive things that increase, like your salary (can’t be mad at that) and accomplishments to add to your portfolio (finally, you’re getting noticed). But then there are other things that go up, like your weight, blood pressure, number of meetings, and tasks on your to-do list. Your days become longer, but somehow the time you have to get work done becomes shorter.

I know this doesn’t sound glamorous, so this is where I stress the importance of time management and prioritizing.

Sometimes, it’ll mean coming in early. Other times, it’ll mean staying late. And then there are times when you’ll have to say, “The work will be here tomorrow.” You can’t wish away the extra work, but you can decide how you’re going to tackle it.

2. Your Words Have More Weight

So here it is: You have to speak up to get promoted, and then once you’re in a higher role, you have to watch what you say. I found that the more visibility I gained, the more I had to measure my words; all eyes are on you in ways they weren’t before.

It’s an interesting mix, because the carefree days of telling it like it is or water cooler talk with co-workers become limited (or at least less obvious). Yet, there will be times when you have to give into office politics more than you’d like.

And, you’ll have to make sure that your communication skills are on point and you don’t come across as being condescending or negative—especially if you manage a team.

You don’t have to completely censor yourself; just be more aware of what you say and how you say it.

3. Your Path Becomes Less Clear

It’s funny how your career comes full circle the closer you get to the top of the ladder. You collect so much experience that you may ask yourself, “What’s my next career move?” Your “next step” becomes less obvious (hello, ceiling?).

This is where you’ll start to wonder:

  • Am I content at this point?
  • Can I compete for other jobs?
  • Will I have to wait for my manager to retire for a role to open?
  • Do I even want my manager’s job?

The best way to address these questions is to answer them honestly. If you continue to perform a pulse check as to where you want to go with your career, you won’t feel stuck. You’ll define your own path.

With all the adjustments that came with moving up, I found that while my path could have gone any which way, my vision of what I wanted became clearer. It became more about the quality of life than the quantity of work, helping others shine rather than being in the spotlight, and listening more than talking.

I don’t think there’s ever going to be a magic book that outlines everything to expect when you move up in your career. However, these three lessons are good to keep in mind as you do.

Then again, if you knew what the future held, would it really change your direction? Something to think about.