The Always Be Climbing Mentality & You
Hummingbirds make me tense. They have the greatest use of energy by size of any animal. I see them and I think of the vast amount of energy that many of us put out into the world, often for no good reason.
This mindset “Always Be Climbing (ABC)” prospers in Washington D.C.
I have borrowed my acronym from the sales world broadly, and from David Mamet’s line delivered by Alec Baldwin in the play, Glengarry Glenross as “Always Be Closing” to his lackadaisical sales staff. We put too much toxic pressure on ourselves and accept it from others to reach a mythical peak.
When it comes to Always Be Climbing, many are constantly on the hunt for the next big opportunity. And that next big job is part of your massive ascent upwards. ABC might be your choice but let's recognize that it expends energy. You will inevitably be giving things up in return.
- Why Do I Want to Climb? For many people this desire is based on a set of conditions related to the people around them. Whether that’s family, friends, or frenemies, be they old school mates or colleagues you feel pressured to keep up with. Real or imagined social pressure can prevent you from being happy. What matters most is that you determine the professional life that you want to have and create a plan to realize it. People who care about you will most often appreciate that you have made life fulfilling to you. Not to them. It is High School and College Reunion 101, the people who garner attention are the ones who are authentically happy. Not necessarily those that are making the most money or have the most fame. Ask yourself, do the people I know who are motivated to keep climbing actually seem happier? Reflect. Define for yourself the qualities of work and life that make you feel your most fulfilled in life, overall.
- What Do I Give Up or Get When I Climb? It may be that you get more money and power, but also greater responsibility, longer hours, and increased stress. I just spoke with a client who needed a more impressive title in a high pressure and competitive field where the boundaries between the personal and professional often get blurred. She is simultaneously experiencing health issues and her doctor has diagnosed that she needs to lessen stress levels. Sometimes we have hard choices to make. Maybe your health is fine, but to ‘climb’ means that you see your family less, vacation less or spend less time on meaningful hobbies. Life, and the jobs we choose, are most often about tradeoffs. You should always be intentional about the trade-offs you are prepared to make. Go in with your eyes open about your new colleagues, how they too are seeking to get to the top and implications if you value qualities like transparency or vulnerability with others. Do not forget that sometimes it is also about deciding that your current role makes sense given the other demands of life which can range from your own health needs to eldercare concerns. You can always choose to climb later.
- How Do I Determine the Right Climb? So, you have decided that you want to get the bigger job up the employment ladder. The same process that made you decide to proceed with climbing should be applied. There are questions I recommend you ask yourself as you consider that next one: What is your long-term trajectory? What will you learn? Who will you meet? How does this role position you to get that next job? Is it the best way to get there? Is your next boss someone who is likely to champion your advancement? Is their temperament and style one that connects with your goals? Are the specific expectations associated with the position ranging from frequent/extensive travel or working on evenings/weekends or being on call at a moment’s notice conditions that you thrive under or are willing to tolerate?
In summary, I recommend that you do the opposite of the hummingbird and Alec Baldwin. It is unnecessary to expend energy constantly to achieve happiness in your career. In fact, asking yourself the right questions at the right time and way can prevent you from burning out and simply climbing just for the sake of it. Climb smart. Take a breath. Assess the landscape. Figure out your next move. Everyone wins from a smarter approach.
Likewise, do not put too much pressure on yourself. There should not be a crazy sales manager in your life or head promising you a BMW. And too often, people, I think, manufacture expectations in their lives when they are not actually reflected by the circumstances around them. You can be happy and fulfilled in your career. From the corner office. Or the top of a Zoom call. But you do not have to. And you are the one who gets to decide what success looks like.
—Russ Finkelstein is the opposite of your High School Guidance Counselor. A career coach, social entrepreneur, and advisor to founders, he is currently the Director of Coaching with the Roddenberry Fellowship, Coach-in-Residence with StartingBloc Fellowship, and a Co-Founder of Title8 a Legal Marketplace. He was a founder of the noted careers website Idealist.org and his new book, "Let's Sort Out Your Career Mess, Together..." is forthcoming in 2021.