What if you don’t want to climb the ladder?
It is five in the afternoon, and I am sweating under a blistering California sun watching college graduates happily receive their diplomas. My brother is among the sea of pointy, tasseled hats, and I’m beaming with pride. He’s done good work- flipping through pages of textbooks, sitting for difficult exams, and prioritizing his academics- and he deserves to enjoy this moment. I know I certainly felt a visceral happiness when I walked across the stage, toting my hard-earned diploma, soaking in all the praise and recognition that came with that piece of paper.
Around campuses everywhere this spring, people are obtaining diplomas and degrees, mapping out professional lives, starting jobs, and entering the supposed real world. Enamored with inspirational language and both intrinsic and external pressures, most of these individuals have their eyes on achieving impressive professional endeavors, and many of them will likely work very hard to reach those goals.
These individuals deserve our recognition. Their persistence and grit is admirable and ambitious. The problem lies in the fact that they are not the only ones who deserve the praise, recognition, and attention.
In this, I advocate for the individuals who may not be walking across their university stages, who may not be climbing the proverbial corporate ladders, who may not aspire to be the manager, leader, or boss of their workplaces. I advocate for the good people who often fall in the cracks- for the people who want to do “good enough” and exert their mental energy on other hobbies, relationships, or caveats. I advocate for the people who may not have the luxury, privilege, or capacity to pursue certain achievements- but who are worthy and amazing people nonetheless.
I advocate for the person who needs someone to tell them you don’t have to want to be the best, and that doesn’t mean there is anything wrong with you.
While there is nothing inherently wrong with the desire to be successful, there is also nothing inherently wrong with not having the desire to be successful. The societal bias preferring the achievers and the accomplished implies that something is “wrong” with people who do not necessarily fit in these norms. They are not reaching their full potentials. They are in denial, lazy, or otherwise broken.
At best, this is ignorant thinking, and at worst, it represents a black-and-white expectation of perfectionism and the vicious race towards achieving it. Some people enjoy that kind of race, that kind of challenge. Others prefer a different pace- a different challenge. We have room for all of the above, and we have room to acknowledge and even celebrate everyone’s individual paths towards well-being.
Rather than focusing on external value- through the job titles and resumes and annual salaries- I advocate celebrating different kinds of successes. The father or mother who chooses to stay at home to raise a child. The full-time employee who feels content with where he or she is, even if (gasp), it means they aren’t necessarily striving towards a leadership or management role. The non-committal individual who works at a job simply to make a paycheck and a living.
It’s okay to have big dreams, and it’s okay to have small dreams, and it’s okay to have changing dreams. You aren’t any less important if you don’t feel the burning need to have a flashy, demanding career or mouthwatering paycheck. Climb ladders if you want to- don’t climb them if you don’t want to. Simple as that. You aren’t less intelligent, less ambitious, or even less attractive. Your priorities are just different, and that is okay.
It is okay to just want to do “good enough.” It is okay to even feel at peace with being average or right-in-the-middle. It is okay if your dreams don’t revolve around work, school, or external success.
Give your dreams some credit! They don’t have to fit any cookie-cutter mold. They don’t have to conform to anybody else’s expectations!
And like I tell my clients, you are only a failure if you decide you are a failure. When you let society define you, you let society shackle you.
Success feels great-I think we can all agree on that-but YOU decide what that success feels like. And it’s okay if not everyone agrees with that definition.