Does the Corporate Ladder always have to go up?


What happens when you spend years reaching your career goal and realise it’s not where you want to be? Where do you go when taking another step up the corporate ladder is not the direction you should be going? Let me tell you my story…

The pressure we put on our youth is insane. At 14-years-old we are given the daunting task of choosing our subjects at school. Now while we may choose the easiest or the ones our friends take– what we don’t know at such a young age is that that decision can affect the rest of our lives. You see, the subjects you choose then determine the tertiary studies you can qualify for, or the knowledge you need to get into the career you want. For me, luckily, it was simple.

I wanted to write. From the moment I knew how to, that is all I wanted to do. I spent my pre-teens carrying around a notebook like some kids carry their favourite toy. When I wasn’t writing, I was reading what other people were writing. Come 14 years of age I knew without a doubt what I wanted to do. Write. Be it books, or articles, or reviews on air conditioners (yeah, I had to do that in the early career years) – I was set.

So with a fairly decent English mark in my pocket, I studied Journalism and got into the magazine industry. Now everyone’s goal in the industry is to become an editor (I may be exaggerating, but I don’t think by much). And that is what I worked towards. And work hard I did. From those air conditioner reviews, to becoming a features writer at a national consumer magazine – I eventually wriggled my way up the ladder wrung by proverbial wrung until I got a job as Deputy Editor.

High-five to me, right? Next step up I would have reached that not-so-elusive goal of editor. You know what I noticed? Every step up I took, the less I got to do what I loved – Write. All of a sudden it was about paperwork and admin, pleasing advertisers, sitting through meeting after meeting. Don’t get me wrong, I am fully aware that all jobs come with admin. Usually though, doing what you love makes it worth it.

And I wasn’t doing what I loved anymore. For the first time I realised that getting to the top isn’t always what it seems. I won’t lie and tell you that having this kind of epiphany after eight years of hard work didn’t scare me. It did. A lot. That was until it hit me that not all people are meant to climb the ladder straight up. It was time for me to slide it sideways, away from the norm, and do what would make me happy.

So I resigned, which was hard, because my boss and my team were people I loved to work along side. I started my own company – which meant I had plenty of admin, a lot of meetings – but even more writing. How did I manage to open this business and keep it running? Here are a few tips…

1) It hasn’t always been easy. I think to get any business off the ground is an up and down process. My biggest ally was my contact list, the people I had met and worked with. Make a note: even when you think you don’t have to network, at some point in your future you will wish you did! You never know when you will need someone, until you do.

2) But an impressive contact list wasn’t the only thing that I needed. Consistency and reliability are gold. Truly. Once you have landed your first client, it is worth nothing unless you follow through. You need to do a great job, every time without fail. You absolutely have to stick to deadlines. And everything you said to land that client in the first place? If you don’t deliver that, you will not be successful. Your clients need to know that you will do your job to the best of your ability – in a timely manner.

3) Another great tip is to be different! For me, the marketing industry is saturated. There is so much competition; at times it felt impossible to make my mark. So I spent some time thinking about what made me different. Which turned out to be the fact that I wanted to offer a more personal and specialised marketing experience. No two press releases are written in the same way. Marketing plans are drastically different for each client. While my writing style stays the same, each article is unique in content. What set me apart is that I knew that while a brand may be just a brand to some, in actual fact, there are always people behind the company name and logo. Which means that I found ways to ‘humanise’ the marketing experience. And I did that through my writing.

4) An extremely successful entrepreneur gave me advice on how to grow my business. He said that instead of hiring people in (especially in the initial stages of start-up), I should outsource. After all – I am not an HR expert. So instead of turning work down because I was only one person, I outsourced help on a project-to-project basis. If I needed design work done, I hired a freelancer. It kept my month-to-month costs down and the work flowing in.

5) Yes, you really do have to look after admin. But in time I found the best way to do it for me. Again, I outsourced my accounts (while English was a strong point, Math was most definitely not). I dedicated one hour a day to sort through emails, client communication and anything else that needed my attention. This structure allowed me to spend the rest of my time being my creative self. So even if you work best in chaos, set aside time every day to organise.

Now I get to spend my time writing anything and everything I can. Marketing, public relations, magazine articles, website content, this article. Even stories to read to my children (It’s a bit of an addiction, but a good one at that).

And I learned, that after nearly a decade of working towards what I thought was my ultimate goal, that I did not waste a second. Nor would I go back and change a thing. Had I not got to where I was, I would never have honed my skills into something that has allowed me to continue what I was doing at the age of ten. I learned that it is never too late to shift your goals, to reevaluate where you want to end up. The more you learn about your career, the more you grow as a person, the clearer your end goal will be. And if that end goal shifts, shift right along with it. Like my favourite quote says “If we were meant to stay in one place, we would have roots instead of feet”.

Nikki Stevenson Pone is the owner of The Written Word and is also a freelance journalist and PR consultant. You can follow The Written Word on Facebook and also follow Nikki on Twitter.

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Mark is an entrepreneur, writer and speaker. He is the founder and CEO of Suits & Sneakers and also founder of the Impello incubation hub. Mark loves to travel the world and is hell bent on disrupting education for people of all ages.