I finally left my penniless days of university behind and crossed the great divide into the “real world” only to be whacked in the face by a new evil that is the metaphorical workplace ladder.
Many of us have encountered workplace hierarchy firsthand. If you are not sure what I mean by “workplace hierarchy”, I am referring to a certain ideology typical to the ordinary, 9-to-5, working world: that you enter this world at the bottom of a metaphorical ladder, blindly take orders from anyone on a rung above yours and are expected to complete arbitrary tasks (okay, possibly not arbitrary, but since no one justifies things to you because there is no need to justify things to those on the bottom rungs, it might as well be arbitrary).
This is all done in the hopes of moving up a rung, while ensuring to conserve the mentality for those on the rungs below your own.
As a bottom runger, you may be treated with less respect and your ideas will often be disregarded. As any one senior would explain to you, this is simply because you are still in the “earning stage” of your career… In other words, you have not earned a voice in your work environment.
Upper rungers feel compelled to treat individuals who are below them in this horrid manner because they have “earned it”. Senior individuals have spent years being subjected to that exact type of interaction and have suffered mentally and physically from the strain and stress that are inextricably linked with the professional climb. Treating a lower runger as “beneath you”, even in subtle ways, is what will set the scoreboard to “even” for the upper runger. In other words, enjoying the perks of seniority is what justifies the pain of climbing the ladder.
I am in my mid 20s and only began my “professional” career around a year ago. Over the last several months of attempting to deal with this “ladder” mentality in my own workplace and simultaneously ignoring the existential-crisis-volcano bubbling inside of me, I began to feel let down by the generations before mine. Is this really what a high school diploma, 8 expensive years of University, multiple internships and gruelling summer jobs have earned me?
The “ladder” mentality suppresses the potential of our generation. We are bogged down with unimportant tasks that teach us nothing and require little critical thinking. The “ladder” mentality is also conducive to an environment of fear, even if subtle, and will deter those on the lower rungs from speaking up. This is because the lower rungs rarely have the option to disagree with superiors.
How can we expect our generation to value integrity, diversity and creativity if we are repressed from 9-to-5 for most of the week and then barely make it to the weekend, only to get wasted in hopes of forgetting we have day jobs? We are being prevented from learning and having meaningful, professional experiences.
I finally realised that the end of the “earning stage” is illusory—it only ends at retirement. As long as there is someone on a rung above you, you will always be on a “lower rung”. There will still be many rungs above yours and many years of “suffering” to come.
Once this dawned on me, I realized I did not want to spend my life climbing the professional ladder and I did not have to either. Explaining this to my family of upper-rung, 9-to-5 success stories was a challenge, since they now all think I am wasting both my University degrees and will end up as a washed-up hippy-dippy failure.
But they’re wrong. Rejecting the metaphorical workplace ladder does not mean I will not climb. It’s just that now, I get to climb whatever I damn want. I can climb freaking mountains à-la-Miley-Cryus.
For now, I have bid adieu to my “typical” office job. I am currently getting a lot of questions as to whether I have something lined up and the answer is that I don’t. A few months ago, I was spending my weekends holed up with my laptop for hours applying to jobs and willing to take “anything I could get”. But when I tell people now that, not only do I have nothing planned but that I am not even job searching, I can tell their heart flutters as they imagine how they would feel in my position. But the truth is, I feel like all my doors are open. It’s just a matter of picking my mountain and taking my first steps.