One of the greatest mistakes a person can make in their career is believing that there is a corporate ladder for them to climb. It is a harsh truth to realize that there is simply no vertical ascent to your dream title. There is no help from a universally-recognized tool with equally spaced footing, meant to get you from the bottom to the top. For a person to believe that there is a ladder available for her to navigate her career is a belief destined for disappointment. Often, the belief that there is a corporate ladder is exactly what gets in people’s way, especially people of color. What I have learned is that the journey of advancement in one’s career is more of a Corporate Tight Rope than it is a ladder. The journey will be a lesson of forward movement requiring you to travel the distance between the platforms of where you are today and where you want to be tomorrow. This is a journey you must take by tight rope and to walk a tight rope requires significant strength, patience and balance. I have learned to look at my career as merely current state and future state. I very rarely even think about titles or promotions in setting my goals. Too many people are fighting for the titles and promotions and we must recognize that this is a fight we cannot win, traditionally. I know I can’t win if I am trying to play the game with the same strategies as those who are systematically chosen to be victorious. I had to understand very early that I am playing the game with a deficit score and that I would have to be willing to execute the harder strategies to win. The tight rope is the strategy corporate America and many other industries require of people like me.
I cannot try to go up against those with a ladder and expect to arrive at the top at the same time. I don’t have a ladder that reaches from the ground to the sky, so again and again, before I am allowed to move up, I must be one of the few brave souls that steps out on the tight rope of uncertainty and fear and take the journey across the thin wire towards the person I want to be next. When I wanted to become a leader of people, I had to sign up to lead projects and take accountability for their failures and successes. I had to equip myself with the skills learned only the through the difficulties of leading those I possess no authority over. When I wanted my seat at the executive table, I had to start speaking up in meetings, taking on strategic work and then campaigning for its implementation with whoever would listen. I had to create the work that influenced the company and improve processes without being asked, even though I was risking working on projects nobody would ever hear about. Now, when I need my voice to matter in the decision the company makes, I have to work harder to watch what I say and when I say it, because my ability to work with others matters. One wrong step into being perceived as difficult, and I will fall off of the rope and have to start over.