Getting Promoted Can Be All Consuming, But Should It Be?

Climbing the corporate ladder is a commonly endorsed, celebrated, and respected endeavor. Achieving that next step up in your career not only adds purpose and direction to your professional life but also comes with numerous advantages. The statement, "I'm getting promoted," is typically met with enthusiasm and conveys a slew of positive changes. 

Here are some of the benefits of securing a promotion:

- **Skill Development**: A promotion often provides an opportunity to acquire new skills.

- **Increased Authority**: You may gain more control and input in decision-making processes.

- **Exciting Projects**: With higher positions, the chance to work on more significant and stimulating projects increases.

- **Team Leadership**: You might find yourself managing a larger team, enhancing your leadership and interpersonal skills.

- **Greater Responsibility**: Taking on more responsibilities can lead to personal and professional growth.

- **Enhanced Job Title**: A more prestigious title can significantly impact how others view your professional capabilities.

- **Improved Compensation**: Typically, a promotion comes with a better salary and benefits, reflecting the value you bring to the company.

- **Professional Value**: Advancing in your career can elevate your standing and credibility within the industry.

Seeking a promotion is a normal and often encouraged aspect of working in a large organization. It's important, however, to balance this ambition with a healthy perspective to avoid it becoming an overwhelming obsession. The pursuit of career advancement should be a motivating force that enriches your professional life without taking away from your personal happiness and well-being.  

I’ve my fair share of chasing promotions. After I finished my MBA, I began my first brand management role at Clorox, a reputable, competitive company known for its leading consumer brands.

One of the main reasons I decided to work as a marketer there wasn’t necessarily because I wanted to market trash bags or drain openers, the first two products I managed, but because I wanted to establish some credibility for myself as a marketer. When you’re working as a marketer at a leading consumer packaged goods company where the training is rigorous, your colleagues are top-notch, and the standards are high, getting promoted is a sign of true success.

One key milestone many of us were working toward was to get promoted to a more senior brand manager role. Rapid promotion signaled good performance. Good performance built more credibility. And more credibility meant more responsibility. All of this, in turn, drove your long-term potential and job security in the company while making you exponentially more employable in the broader marketing industry.

Promotions Can Become All-Consuming

At your workplace, you might notice that much of the water-cooler talk seems focused on who’s in line for the next promotion, who sits where in the organizational chart, or how close you might be yourself to upgrading your job title to one that shines a little more brightly on your business card or LinkedIn profile.

Additionally, you may work, as I once did, at an organization with an “up or out” culture where promotion was almost a requirement to remain at the company. Where employees who weren’t promotable were told their futures in the organization were bleak. Where remaining in the same role for too long signals career stagnation or lack of ambition.

This external focus on promotions can influence your focus on getting promoted. Even if you consider yourself as someone who doesn’t care about these sorts of things, you may start to feel pressure to progress. When others are plowing ahead, it’s only natural to feel pressure to keep up and not fall behind your peers.

Your Job Title Often Feels Like Your Identity

I’ll admit I used to be caught up in the pursuit of promotion. I felt a need to climb the corporate ladder without even stopping to think about why I wanted to get promoted. While embarrassing to admit now, part of my reasons for relentlessly chasing promotions was because everyone else seemed to be doing it.

Ironically, after I was told by our CMO that my promotion was only weeks away at Clorox, I ended up leaving right before it happened to make an international move. While it felt like the right thing to do personally, leaving that promotion behind also felt like a huge professional sacrifice. In many ways, I felt like all my efforts at that company were wasted. At best, I felt like I threw in the towel too early. At worst, I felt a bit like a failure.

Eventually, though, I got hired into my next role, which was a promotion. Then, I got promoted again a couple of years later. In the end, that pre-promotion departure didn’t adversely affect my professional prospects as much as I’d originally assumed.

Promotions Aren't The Only Measure of Success

The longer I worked in the corporate world, the more I saw how promotions involved nuanced, complex dynamics that didn’t always relate to one’s actual professional performance. Sometimes, people got promoted who were less capable than others. Sometimes, people in more senior roles were less technically adept than others. At other times, people with a more senior job title at one organization had less impressive track records than others with more junior job titles at other organizations.

About a decade into my marketing career, I reached a point where I just felt like getting promoted no longer mattered to me. It soon became clear that promotions didn’t always correlate with one’s actual expertise, capability, or knowledge. Pursuing that next title started to feel a bit like a game with ever-changing rules I no longer felt compelled to play.

At some point, I realized I didn’t want my manager’s role. And I also realized I definitely didn’t want my manager’s manager’s role. Most importantly, it dawned on me that getting promoted just didn’t matter as much to me personally. Putting aside incremental increases in salary, the titles themselves stopped holding as much meaning.

The Value of A Promotion May Change

These days, I now work independently, so promotions are no longer relevant to my professional journey. As someone who regularly works with and speaks to professionals from junior to executive roles, I can very clearly see, in a way I couldn’t before, that one’s job title isn’t always directly related to one’s capability or confidence—and certainly not their compassion or character, which matter more to me than one’s seniority in an organization.

Chasing that next promotion can be such a presumed, driving force in your career that sometimes you can forget why it matters to you so much in the first place. You really must force yourself to periodically pause and ask yourself why getting that next promotion is so important to you, and if it’s still so important to you now.

Ask Yourself Why Getting Promoted Matters

Maybe earning a higher income will enable you to do something you can’t do right now. Maybe getting promoted will open the opportunity to manage projects you find more professionally satisfying. Or maybe, that new role will introduce new challenges that enable you to develop a broader skill set or feel more engaged in your work. There are plenty of perfectly fine reasons for wanting the next rung.

However, if getting promoted won’t make you holistically happier or if it doesn’t serve one of your key priorities, perhaps it’s worth reconsidering whether to focus on it as much as you have been. It doesn’t mean giving up on progressing in your career, which is of course important. But it may enable you to free yourself a bit from the idea that the main measure of your career success is tied to your job title. And once you do that, other ways of driving career fulfillment may open up for you.

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