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Career Ladder Myth: Move Up or Move Out

Have you ever heard the phrase, "Move up or move out"?

It means that in order to stay with a company, you either have to keep climbing the career ladder, whatever that looks like for you, or find a job at a different company. Either you keep changing positions or you find something somewhere else.

Many people still believe this myth today. Let's talk about my strongest encounter with this pervasive myth.

Behind the Scenes in a Management Meeting

A few years ago, I was invited to a meeting with senior management, directors, and group managers to decide on the formalized career ladder for Product Management at the company.

To be honest, I was pretty intimidated. At the time, I was a Product Manager and was mostly lending my hand as a steadying force. I brought realism and boots-on-the-ground experience to the management team who was busy deciding our career ladder fates.

During this all-day meeting with our SVP, VPs, Directors, and Group Managers, we started arguing about what to do with Senior Product Managers who had been in their positions for a number of years. We went into motivation, productivity, mentorship potential, and contentedness.

We were also talking about the budget needed to maintain all the positions. Aha. Money brings out the worst in people. I know that even better now.

One Director resolutely stated, "They need to either move UP or move OUT. There's no room for them to stay where they are."

I don't know how well you know me, but I can't keep my mouth shut sometimes. Oftentimes. It's part of what makes me a coach that helps people change quickly... but, back then, I had less tact.

I could feel my face heating up. "What do you mean? Why can't they stay where they are? What harm are they causing?"

"They're not learning and growing. They're not making enough of a difference AND they're costing us more and more money each year."

The debate raged on. We talked through creating an Executive Product Manager role or elevating the Senior Product Manager role to be on the same level as a Group Manager. We made charts and discussed salary limits.

At the end of the meeting, we had a faction that insisted people should or would "move up or move out" and another faction that wanted to make a senior or executive level a place individual contributors could stay content.

But what if you're happy where you are in your career?

Here's my point: You can choose to be content in your role. You don't have to move up or move out. You can have different priorities.

As I made note of the people in the "move up or move out" group, I noticed they were pretty heavily weighted with people who were extremely ambitious themselves. Extremely. It was a group of future CEOs, if they could make it that far.

Don't get me wrong. I'm ambitious, too, but I firmly believe that not everyone is the same. You can be less ambitious than the next person and still make a HUGE difference in this world. In fact, I hope there are many, many people who learn to be content where they are.

There's more to life than career ambitions. There's more to happiness than climbing the career ladder.

You won't feel fulfilled by becoming CEO of a company. Moving up or moving out won't set you free.

It all comes down to priorities.

I caught up with that Director recently. She changed her mind and her tone. Her life took a different turn than she expected recently and it changed her priorities.

Now she values work/life balance more than climbing the career ladder. Her kids need a mom who is around. Her marriage is a higher priority than if she ever becomes CEO.

What are your priorities? What do you do first thing in the morning? What do you spend your money and your time on?

For me, my priorities are clear:

  1. God: Serving Jesus and loving His people

  2. My husband: Keeping our marriage strong

  3. My kids: Guiding them to love Jesus, stay healthy, and love each other

  4. My business: Growing Saver Street and helping people all over the US with their finances and their careers

  5. My friends and extended family: Sorry, guys! It's a hard tie between 4th and 5th priority here. I guess it depends on the time of day and night.

What are your priorities? Can you list them?

That'll help you decide what to do with your career, how to create your career ladder, and whether to be content with where you are in your career path.

If you'd like to listen to more about this myth, listen to my podcast, Management Material.

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