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While Climbing the Career Ladder, Know When Steps Are Missing


Recently, Nebraska Senator Ben Sasse wrote a book entitled The Vanishing American Adult. All the talk about generational differences prompted me to read some of the reviews. What was his point of view? An example Sasse gave really resonated. Here’s a summary from the Chicago Tribune:

His advice is rooted in his experience as both a father of three and a former president of Midland University, where he was taken aback by a culture of passivity.

He was particularly unnerved, he writes, when some students from the athletic department were tasked with setting up and decorating a 20-foot Christmas tree in the lobby of the basketball arena. The students only decorated the bottom seven or eight feet — the branches they could easily reach. No one bothered to look for a ladder.

“I simply couldn’t reconcile the decision to leave while the work was still incomplete with how my parents had taught me to think about assignments,” Sasse writes. “I couldn’t conceptualize growing up without the compulsion — first external compulsion, but over time, the more important internal and self-directed kind of compulsion — to attempt and to finish hard things, even when I didn’t want to.”

I don’t believe for a minute that no one in the group realized they needed a ladder to get to the top. Someone must have had the necessary critical thinking skills. Maybe they were just tired of the project?

The truth is that there always have been, are and will be different generations—different viewpoints and ways of doing things—in the workplace. One of the reasons there’s so much noise about millennials is that they’re such a large cohort. Another is that there was less change between the baby boomers and Gen X than between those generations and the millennials. The Internet and all that came with it accelerated the pace of change to the point that many of us can’t even remember when we didn’t have a smartphone or when formal dress was correct for any business meeting. Of course things changed. And Gen Z will bring even more changes.

Whatever happens, though, everyone needs their own ladder, their own way of getting help. As you progress in your career, who are the people who will help you climb higher?  Who are you networking with so you can get the right help when you need it?

No one person can be your ladder for everything. Most of us need someone we can rely on for technical advice, another for soft skills, a third for dealing with difficult situations, and so forth. Some of these people are likely to be from older generations and others from younger ones. That’s not important. We all can learn from each other. The important thing is creating a ladder that works for you. One that doesn’t have any missing steps.