Striving upward. It’s the American way. But when, if ever, should your way stop being upward? After all, people rising to their level of incompetence is common enough to have a name: The Peter Principle. Besides, even if you could succeed at higher rungs, is it worth the price? One size does not fit all.

This article’s purpose is to help you decide you whether to aim up, sideways, or down, at least for now. And yes, pulling back can be worthy of consideration.

Six questions to help you decide up, down, or sideways.

Consider these questions:

  • How well are you doing in your current position? How much do you enjoy it?
  • Would you likely make a bigger impact on your workplace and, indirectly, society, if you strived upward? Would you be happier or at least more content?
  • How would you perform and feel if you took a step downward, for example, from manager to individual contributor or from individual contributor to support person, a right arm?
  • Moving upward often requires you  to replace some family and recreational time with more work hours, more skills, and/or more travel. How do you feel about that?
  • Typically, the higher you go, the more responsibility you have. Some people relish that while others get too stressed by it. How about you?
  • Often, there’s family or societal pressure to keep climbing, for example, “You’re a brilliant, well-adjusted woman. Don’t settle for middle management!” If you were to forget about others’ opinion, how do you feel you should keep climbing, stay put, or take a step down?
  • Would a very wise person advise you to strive to move up, take a step down, or pull back? Why?

If you want to climb. These questions may help you identify what you need to do to accelerate your ascension:

  • Are your technical skills strong enough for the higher position to which you aspire?
  • Are your one-on-one communication skills strong enough? THIS article may help you assess and improve that.
  • Are your public speaking skills strong enough? THIS article may help you assess and improve that.
  • Can you well-play the often necessary office politics? THIS article may help you assess and improve that.

If you want to step down. The challenge is mustering the courage to tell your boss, friends, and family. You might try wording such as this:

When I look back on my career, it seems I was at my best as an individual contributor. People always told me I did a good job, I wasn’t unduly stressed, and I had time for the things I wanted to do outside of work. I know it’s not the standard way but I’m thinking it’s wise to accept the raised eyebrows and take a step down. I hope you won’t lose respect for me for doing that. I’d really appreciate your support.

Up isn’t the only way. In today’s America, we claim to celebrate diversity. But truly, many of us are remarkably intolerant of people whose behaviors and ideas fall outside a very narrow range. If someone says or implies they’re ready to stop climbing, you might want to replace an accusation such as, “Why?” with something like, “That’s brave and often wise. Want to tell me what brought you to that decision?”

Wikipedia’s profile of Marty Nemko tells you more than necessary.

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