How to Move Forward When Taking a Step to the Side
It started about 60 years ago in Denver: a complete stop of automobile traffic in all directions to allow pedestrians unobstructed movement in all directions. The joke became that, amongst the crowds and unpredictable paths, some people had to dance their way across the intersection. While utilized in several cities around the world, many in its origin city call it the “Denver Two-Step”. Simultaneously moving forward while moving sideways.
It’s a typically well understood and universal notion that a loss is expected when jumping from one ladder to the next, from one place to another. You have to relearn the ropes, establish a new ground floor, prove your capabilities in a new environment. Just like how you can’t expect a new romantic relationship to have as many memories and inside jokes as your last one, you can’t expect a complete career shift to get you ahead.
Defining Forward Movement
So often we label success by two factors: money and title. Financial status and social status. We criticize the woman who leaves her comfortable office job at an elite firm to open a sandwich shop. We laugh at the washed up celebrities working behind the bar counter. And yet we applaud the man who works sixty hours a week for an extra $300 a month and missed his daughter’s soccer game because of a recent promotion on the fast track to partner.
Forward movement means the fixing of a problem. It’s something tangible, something you can see, point to and say “that’s forward.” It’s a higher salary. It’s moving from a cubicle to a corner office. It’s having less people to report to while becoming the person more people answer to.
But that’s changing.
Related Reading: A Millennial Job Interview
We’ve all heard various renditions of “pursue happiness” and “do what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life”. But there’s no money in art history, and selling knitted hats on Etsy won’t put food on the table. So we keep slugging on in the factory, in the ditch, behind the desk, in the job that doesn’t make us happy but pays the bill.
But things are changing. And we can change with it.
Slowly but surely, businesses are catching on to the new surge of Millennials fighting for their values of culture, social responsibility, and a work-life balance. The corner offices are disappearing. Success is being redefined.
I’ve already changed my career path since graduating college. Once a teacher, now a receptionist. And there’s another move looming in my future. In one position I had some (debatable) status, not a lot of money, and even less time. In the other I had very little to no status, almost decent money, and a moderate amount of time but terrible hours. I don’t consider either to be a success. Within the first few months at both positions, I became stressed, unmotivated, and threatened with dangerous coping methods.
So let’s call that move a draw. A purely sideways move: less status for more money, but overall no increase in satisfaction.
Because that’s what it’s about: satisfaction. Not complacency, not acceptance, not even happiness. Satisfaction.
It’s a balance. Work will always be work, no matter how much you love it. But you have to be satisfied with the balance between effort and payout, between how much time you spend at the office versus at home, between your personal wants and needs and those of the company. Some people might be willing to work long, grueling hours because the pay is good. Others may be more inclined to take a pay cut because it gives them more free time to pursue their hobbies or spend time with friends and family. One person may crave the structure of a 9-5 job with a dress code and a boss, while another finds joy in working sporadic hours from home in their pajamas.
It’s all in the eye of the beholder, dependent on personal values. So there’s one more thing that success is: fluid.
A change in careers can be a step forward if that’s the direction you want to take it in. You might lose money, lose sleep, lose status, but you might gain happiness, autonomy, a better work community. Jumping from one ladder to another doesn’t have to lose you any ground when you define the ground worth standing on.