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When Your Career Ladder is Up Against the Wrong Wall

Sometimes you can put in years of hard work, marching up the career ladder only to find out it is up against the wrong wall. One of the clearest signs that you are not going up the right ladder is when less talented, more enthusiastic people are promoted ahead of you…

In 2004 I was in a car driving home from a whitewater-rafting trip with several of my business school classmates.

They had asked me about my research on career satisfaction and happiness, and I was sharing with them what I had learned.

At one point in our conversation, I shared with them the fact that we tend to acclimate to our income (whatever it may be) and thus, going into investment banking (among the highest paying of professions) was stupid because you worked all the time and were doomed to be miserable.

One of my friends in the back groaned… he was an investment banker.

I thought I was correct in what I had shared. After all, I had experience.

For a time, when I was a management consultant, I worked from 8:00 am to 1:00 am every day for 21 days. At one point during that stint I decided that this life was not worth living, and I made a plan to quit (thankfully the windows on the 33rd floor didn’t open!).

So I knew that investment banking was foolish, because that is what every single week is like.

Everyone is different

Fast forward a few years and I meet someone named George who was working with me at an executive training company. George was a former investment banker and around 40-years-old.

He had worked in investment banking for over a decade, becoming a managing director before ultimately leaving to pursue other interests.

So I asked him, “How did you work as an investment banker for so long? I mean, wasn’t it miserable?”

His reply surprised me. He told me that he absolutely loved it. He loved the rush of a new deal getting done, he loved the pace, he said the hunt for the next big deal was like, “businessman’s crack.”

He simply left because he didn’t enjoy the lifestyle and wanted to start a family.

This was a huge lesson to me. All along I had assumed that people were only in investment banking for the money. –But in fact, some people are passionate about it.

I share this story because if you look around you at your firm, chances are there are a few people who are there because they absolutely love what they do.

My guess is that you are not one of them, because I would guess that they are only between 1% and 5% of the population of any company… although it’s probably higher at mission driven firms.

So, if you look around your office and realize you are not one of those people with a passion for what you are doing, it is time to do something.


What I have observed is that people who are passionate about what they do, even when not as talented as others around them, will overtake their less passionate but more capable colleagues as time goes on.

Find a career that ignites your passion

Careers are marathons, not sprints, and those without enthusiasm can’t go the distance.

In other words, as years go by, they still have fire in their bellies while others burn out and start dialing it in.

This is particularly true in firms that are financially rewarding. Money attracts talent, which is why you do have a lot of highly talented people working on Wall Street who would rather not be there.

Those who want to be there will outperform them.

Hire a career coach to help

All of which leads to the question: what should you be doing?

Well, that is where a career coach can help you. –And in my opinion, the most important thing a career coach can do for you is help you define what success means to you. (See How to Find the Right Career).

This may sound trite, but time and time again I see people who define success financially. When you define your success in terms of titles and income, you are using your company’s definition of success.

And when you do that, look out, because life will pass you by as you struggle to rise through the ranks.

But when you are at the right firm, doing something you care about, then your definition of success just might align with the firm’s, and you will have an amazing career and life.

Yes, career coaching is about tactics like LinkedIn profiles and networking and resumes… –But more than that, it is about getting you into the position you fit best.

One of my recent clients went from a job he hated to one he absolutely loved. As a result, he was happier, his wife was happier and I’m pretty sure everyone he interacted with had a better experience.

That’s what excites me about career coaching, the opportunity to change the world one person at a time. I hope you can find something that excites you in the same way, whatever it may be.

Thinking of hiring a career coach to help you find a career that ignites your passion? Connect with George Karris, browse our directory of career coaches and get a FREE consultation or request a personalized coach recommendation!

About the Author George Karris

George Karris is a former corporate executive who coaches professionals on how find opportunities that balance their ambition, purpose and overall happiness. He has a track record of professional success that includes setting strategy for a $4B firm, raising millions for a startup, and leading a team of over 200 people. He has an MBA from Harvard Business School and has studied positive psychology with Tal Ben-Shahar, Shawn Achor and Tony Schwartz. Connect with George on Noomii and his website.

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