Is the career climb really a ladder?

Whoever said that the career climb is a ladder was wrong. Maybe it’s time to rethink the career metaphor.

Gregor Lucic crushing Romania (5.11c). Photo by Tim Sherry

UPDATE: I forgot to mention that this post was inspired by a link that Matt Hall posted mentioning a GeoConvention 2014 session called “On Belay”. From what it sounds like, the career talks fell flat. I will be posting on the topic of careers in the future and have been organizing a young/early career Geoscience podcast. If you’re interested in collaborating or being an interviewee, please drop me a line.


“On belay!” I shouted down to Chris as I finished pulling up the slack through the anchor I’d constructed at the top of Pitch 1 of Bloody Bush in the Gunks. While I sat on the belay ledge and pulled rope through my ATC I thought back through the 100′ climb I’d just finished. It was my second real trad lead. I’d taken my time on the lead, placing (and double checking) way more gear than a veteran trad climber would place.

After finishing a climbing that long where I had to place my own protection, I felt a huge boost. I was more confident, not just in my climbing ability (it was an easy climb), but also in my ability to think through situations and keep a level, controlled thought process when clinging on a steep cliff of quartz conglomerate.

Careers, whether in academia or industry, are often described as a ladder. The Bachelors leads to the Masters leads to the PhD to the Post-Doc to the Assistant Professor, Associate Professor, Professor, etc. Every new job or promotion is a move up to the next rung.

But what is at the top? Retirement? Maybe the ladder analogy is too simple.
The ladder implies that every move up is evenly spaced and equally easy.
I’m starting to think about my own career as a rock climb. Some job positions are easier than others, and the transition between the two are easy. Others are more challenging and require finess to stick the “crux” move.
Not every move is up. Sometimes it is necessary to traverse left or right. Perhaps the transition from academia to industry was a traverse.
And what is at the top of the climb? Usually a great view. Maybe I’m naive, and the goal isn’t to retire, but to find a job that is exciting or  least provides financial support for an enjoyable hobby.
I’m very early in my career and maybe my perspective will change in the coming years. Leave your thoughts in the comments below.

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