“I don’t want my boss’s job”

One morning a few years ago, I watched a Senior Manager from my firm get out of his car in the office parking garage. He seemed to be on the phone with a client. He wore one of those bluetooth earpieces that make you wonder who the heck this person is talking to, until you spot the earpiece.

This manager continued his phone call in the elevator, which was impressive, as cell phone reception was typically pretty terrible in the elevator. He also continued the phone call in the office kitchen while he grabbed coffee, and he was still on the phone when he walked into his office to put down his bag and get settled in for the day. It wouldn’t surprise me if he had started this client call over breakfast at home, or even while he was getting dressed.

But let me back up for a second.

Some industries feature predefined career ladders. For example, in the type of consulting I used to work in, the career progression went like this:

  1. Analyst
  2. Senior Analyst
  3. Research Associate
  4. Associate
  5. Manager
  6. Senior Manager
  7. Principal
  8. Vice President

If you stayed with the firm long enough, or with a similar firm in the industry, and you did well, you could count on working your way up the ladder. There were even informal guidelines on how many years you’d be expected to hold one title (and the associated responsibilities) before you’d move up.

Having a career ladder has some advantages: you know what you’re getting into, you know that you’ll get a nice pay raise regularly, and you have concrete performance targets. 

The downside, though, is that the next job you would likely take has already been defined. And you might not like it.

One reader writes (shared with permission):

After a couple of “intense” internships in law firms, [I realized]: no more of this, and above all, I don’t want to do in a couple of years’ time what the people who are currently staffing me are doing.

Is this true for you, too?

When I watched the Senior Manager talking with his client before he even got into the office, I realized that I did not want his job. 

Now, other senior people in the firm created a cleaner split between work and free time. A handful of managers even worked part time. If I had continued moving up the ladder, I could no doubt have taken some action to make the job more pleasant.

But there were some things that all senior people seemed to do. For one, they all responded to client calls at any time, even in the evenings and on weekends. I simply didn’t want to have to do that—I didn’t want to be at someone else’s beck and call.

So, if you work in an industry with a defined career ladder, and you don’t want to keep your current job forever, and you don’t want your boss’s job either, then what?

In that case, the best thing you can do is to figure out what you do want—and how you can start moving towards it. You won’t figure it out just by thinking and thinking. It requires action and experimentation. If there is something else that you suspect you might really like to do, take the jump and try it out.

Worst case, you learn a little more about what you do and don’t like. Best case, you find a new way to make a living that deeply satisfies you.


— Peter

P.S. Need help figuring out what you want? I will be taking on a few coaching clients soon. Let’s talk to see whether I can help you get unstuck.

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