Diversifying the Career Race

I’m training for a 5k. I told my 4-year-old a month ago that I was starting to practice running so I could run a race before the summer.“Are you going to win the race?” he asked. I told him no, that I wasn’t going to win and he looked sad.

“Maybe you’ll win, mom! Maybe you’ll be the fastest!”

I told him that it was ok by me if I didn’t win because that isn’t why I’m running the race. He was confused. Why would someone run a race if they didn’t want to win?!

That’s how my preschooler walked right into a lesson on managers and career path.

Why would a person run a race if they’re not trying to win? Oh, I don’t know. TO GET IN SHAPE?

For the experience of seeing your family waving and cheering for you? To prove to yourself that you have stamina and discipline? To be among other people trying their best at something, to observe strangers cheering for strangers? (I get choked up just thinking about how sweet that is, humans yelling positive things at other humans who are trying. GAH.)

The general societal view of career path is that promotions into management mean winning. You start in the weeds, build expertise… and one day you’re asked to be a manager. Success! Now that’s news your mom can brag to her friends about!

Except that is super-busted.

Management should not be positioned as the reward for doing incredible work. It is one direction that employees could go in, one among many. As they move through their careers, they may dip in and out of management roles or avoid them entirely, depending on what the organization needs and what each person is hungry for. Does your employee want to work with humans, facilitating their growth and building team the way you build a product? Then by all means, move her into management.

But if an employee is reluctant to trade her expertise for a new currency, invite her to run a different race. Guide her to lean into being an expert in the field. Coach her to become a speaker on a topic that everyone else is avoiding. Identify a role that complements her life outside work so she can climb mountains on the weekend.

I know many miserable people who have the title they always wanted. Be the company where success isn’t about one path; choose the multitudes. It’s more authentic, it’s more interesting and it saves everyone from anxious competition for limited supply. There is space for all of us to succeed without one-dimensional wins or giving out participation trophies.

Because some of us are in it for a different kind of trophy.

Is one of your employees well-suited and hungry for management? Send them to Plucky’s manager training in NYC this summer. We’ll cover what success looks like as managers, how to talk about career paths on small teams and beyond. More details here!