Climb the Ladder

Bill Abbate

Are you at the stage in your career when you are climbing the ladder? If so, where are you in the process, and how are you doing? Let’s look at what this climbing is all about!

The ladder

Everyone knows the commonly used metaphor of “climbing the ladder” in their career. The higher you climb, the more successful and influential you become. Some of us continue this “climb” for decades.

Some climb until they retire, while others may stop much sooner. At some point, you may want to get off the ladder altogether.

The ladder isn’t for everyone, nor should it be. I have known many people who are happy where they are. Their definition of success is different than that of some. They often define success as working at a job they enjoy, with stable employment and decent benefits while leading a peaceful life. Not a bad definition of success, is it?

It is a wonderful feeling to be happy and satisfied with your work. There is something to be said for not taking work home with you, as some do, working well past normal hours. Yet, in some impoverished countries, to live such an existence would be a dream.

Then there are those driven individuals who want to go higher, do more, be more, and get more. Their life is all about climbing that ladder. Does it mean they have failed if they do not climb the ladder of success? It depends on their point of view, doesn’t it?

Are there disadvantages to climbing the ladder? How about stress? It can be a real disadvantage when it is the wrong kind of stress. Your life is more than a job; if the stress affects your health, it’s time to rethink your priorities.

As I climbed the ladder during my career, it was stressful at times, but not always in a bad way. Some of the stress was good and kept me on my toes. It took me more than two decades to finally achieve what I thought was the ultimate position of running a sizable company. I loved the responsibilities, working with our teams to get results and the autonomy of the position. I even learned to enjoy the board meetings!

Although you may reach the top, there is always someone to whom you will report. It could be the owners, board, employees, or customers, but you are always responsible to someone else for what you do, no matter how high you are on the ladder.

The funny thing was when I finally reached the position I had wanted for so long, that was not the end. It never is. Two more rungs could have put me at the head of a huge multinational company. But I had no desire to keep climbing. I was satisfied with where I was, and the long climb was finally over.

Fast forward a few years, and I retired, climbing off the ladder to firm ground, and it felt good! It still feels amazing! One thing I often say about this stage of life is:

“When you retire, every day is Saturday, except Sunday!”

In other words, you get to do more of what you want and less of what others expect or demand!

Where are you on the ladder of success? If you are willing to accept advice from an older man, let me offer some from decades of helping people get ahead.

To climb, or not to climb?

All of us need to stop occasionally and do a reality check. Ask yourself questions such as:

  • Am I where I want to be in my career? If not, why not?
  • If I am satisfied with where I am, what will it take to maintain what I have? Will it be possible long-term?
  • Am I willing to do what it takes to make it happen if I want to climb higher?
  • What is my ultimate objective, and what must I do to achieve it?

If you are happy with where you are and enjoy your work, develop a strong appreciation for what you have. This appreciation will come across in your attitude on the job and at home.

To live a satisfying life is more than many people in the world can do, so why not be thankful and enjoy it? A satisfying life is a wonderful thing to have, so why worry about more?

If you are unhappy with your job and what you are doing, look inward to find what it will take to satisfy you. Is it a simple attitude adjustment you can make, or are you frustrated because you feel compelled to climb the ladder higher?

“Change happens when the pain of staying the same is greater than the pain of change.” Tony Robbins (1960-present)

If you are unhappy and desire to climb further up the ladder, weigh what is involved in continuing to move up. There will be some stress, which is a natural result of growing. Can you deal with the greater demands, increased responsibilities, and higher expectations? If you say, “Sure, bring them on!” take a closer look at what it will take to continue up the ladder.

What you need to continue the climb

“The ladder of success is best climbed by stepping on the rungs of opportunity.” Ayn Rand (1905–1982)

Let’s look at a few fundamentals to help anyone move up the ladder more quickly. Everyone I know who climbed the ladder of success in business made sacrifices. Are you willing to put in the hours and possibly time away from home and your family to climb the ladder? If so, you will need a strong internal drive and desire.

It is important to build a successful track record. Can you clearly articulate the value you have brought to the company? If not, why not? It will help you immensely when you can, so why not work on it?

It may be necessary to take your talent to another company. Upwardly mobile professionals change companies about every three years. Personal experience bears this out.

“Be sure that, as you scramble up the ladder of success, it is leaning against the right building.” Stephen Covey (1932–2012)

You will find it far easier to climb the ladder when you are self-motivated to keep learning and growing. What are you learning? What are you reading? I have yet to meet a higher-level professional or executive who is not a reader. There may be a few out there, but the operative word here is “few.” Why not be in the majority by working on yourself and learning from others? Become a reader!

Emotional intelligence is one of the best skills to develop in today’s work environment. It is well-established that those with high emotional intelligence move up the ladder much faster.

These few things are critical to the success of anyone climbing the ladder. What else do you think could be helpful? Please leave a comment below on what you would add.

“Success is neither magical nor mysterious. Success is the natural consequence of consistently applying the basic fundamentals.” Jim Rohn (1930–2009)

Final thoughts

When the time comes to get off the ladder, you will know. One thing I recommend is that you do not delay the decision. Too many unnecessarily work themselves into the grave. There is so much more to be gained from life than only working. If you have had a successful career, why not spend the final season of life, which I hope is extremely long, enjoying the fruits of your labor?

To maintain the best possible life, begin working on yourself in a new and different way. Put energy into something that will last beyond your life. What is that something, you ask?


Plenty of younger people can benefit from your experience, wisdom, and encouragement in their lives. Nothing is quite like the satisfaction of helping a person walk through life. Imagine the joy of seeing them overcome, grow, and build a future for themselves and their family. What a wonderful legacy to leave.

Regardless of your life stage, one of the most extraordinary lasting things you can do is to help others. Why not get started young? If you are older, why not get started now? Better late than never!

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Semi-Retired-Leadership/Executive Coach -Personal & Career Growth Expert -Editor and Leadership Writer at Illumination -Author

Richmond, VA

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