Professional Development

Improving yourself without climbing the corporate ladder

Written by Eric Titner

Many of us who enter the workforce come strapped with a host of preconceived notions about how our career journeys will ultimately pan out—the steps we’ll take as we climb the ladder to success, the positions we’ll hold, the salaries and benefits we’ll acquire along the way, and the timelines for making it all happen. Sure, we can spend all our time planning every step of our careers—from our first jobs until the day we retire—but the truth is, it’s almost impossible to predict precisely how it’ll all go. After all, a fair amount of variables that are often out of our direct control, like luck and being at the right place at the right time, factor into the professional mix along with our skill, effort, and good intentions.

That said, you don’t need to climb the corporate ladder to grow and evolve. There are ways to make improvements and achieve success that doesn’t involve reaching the next rung. Also, freeing yourself from the constant stress and anxiety of having to hit some arbitrary career milestone may be one of the best things you do for yourself. Whether you’re at a career inflection point or want to explore new ways to effect positive professional change that doesn’t include chasing a promotion, keep reading and consider the following strategies for self-improvement.

Learn a new skill

These days, too many of us are blindly focused on racing up the corporate ladder and avoid or overlook making the most of opportunities available at our current positions. However, if we slow down and take stock of where we’re currently at in our career trajectories, chances are we’ll see that there are a collection of new skills we can focus on acquiring at our current levels—which will not only benefit us now, but will also likely set us up for greater success in the long term.

Consider stepping out of your comfort zone and trying something new at work, or maybe even taking a class or pursuing advanced certification. What’s better, many companies are aware of the benefits of having a highly-trained staff and are willing and eager to provide and fund training opportunities for employers. It’s a total win-win situation for all!

Explore your industry

Are you up on all the latest and greatest developments in your industry? Or are you so focused on climbing the corporate ladder that you’re allowing yourself to fall behind when it comes to current events? Instead of constantly looking upward at your career growth, consider spending some time looking all around you and getting reacquainted with industry news and trends. This can include attending industry events and joining online groups devoted to your specific field. Not only can you come away with a whole host of knowledge and new contacts, it also might help guide and refocus the direction your career takes.

Spark positive change at your company

If all of your focus is on yourself and your career path, you may be missing out on opportunities to help improve things at your company. Instead of thinking solely about the next step on the ladder to success, spend some time thinking about workflow and processes in your team, department, and company. How can you share and implement ideas that can help enhance productivity and efficiency? Not only can this help your company, it can also help improve your work life, impress the higher-ups, and lead to bigger and better things in your professional future.

When it comes to your career, ambition can absolutely be a good thing—but focusing all of your time and energy on climbing the corporate ladder isn’t the only way to improve yourself. Consider the strategies and advice presented here to effect positive and lasting change in new and meaningful ways.

About the author

Eric Titner

Eric is a NYC-based editor and writer, with years of experience in career-focused content development across a wide range of industries.