“Is this it?” Tyler said as he commented on his career path. He worked in a mid-size company near New Haven and described his progression from an entry level position to assistant manager to manager to senior manager. His career progression had stalled at that point. Director was the next level and there was no guarantee that he would get the promotion. He also understood that if he did get promoted to director it was unlikely he would get a further promotion, given his sense of company politics and his place and reputation within his company. Tyler was 44 when he met me. So he asked himself “is this it? Will this be what I do for the rest of my career? 20-25 more years of the same?” The issue was making him depressed.
Think of the archetype esteemed country doctor or country lawyer or beloved cleric (priest/pastor/rabbi) or school teacher. While in our current day, these types likely exist in rural Connecticut and not in New Haven or New London you can envision that they, too, built their careers in their twenties and thirties and then settled in for very similar work in their 40s onward. The country doctor has a limited number of patients he/she could see because of demographics. The school teacher can change his/her teaching but really only at the margins. These types do not come to see Career Counseling Connecticut. Why? Because while they, too, have a career progression that could be viewed as “stalled”, as in not getting any bigger, they are doing work that makes them happy. They “built” their happy career path and now are reaping the rewards of doing so. They are joyful to have created work that they now can do into the indefinite future.
The “organization” man/woman rarely is similar. Some do find their calling or at least work that suits them within a large organization. For most, the benefits of the job – the external rewards, not the internal fulfillment – are what sustain them. That’s fine, except when it’s not. When the benefits, which include the feeling that there is a path with an upward trajectory, become more limited, the person suffers. When upward mobility is stalled and uncertain, then the person has to really enjoy their work in order to be psychologically satisfied.
How to avoid this trap? If you are an organization, you can likely see your career path on a chart. You also have to understand the pyramid structure of companies. The higher the job, the fewer the spots. If you are not ok with stopping at one of those lower spots, then you should seriously consider a career change. The stall, unfortunately, hits most everyone.