Volume 31: Ambition: Not Always the Path to Happiness

RoyA few months ago, I toured a facility near our office and was guided on the tour by a man that had been at that facility in the role of Leadman for over 20 years. When I found this out, I was stunned. For one thing, it’s rare in the corrugated industry (or any industry these days) to find someone with that duration at one facility.

From another angle, I was amazed that he had stayed as a Leadman that long.

When I asked him about it, he said moving up to Supervisor just never interested him. Sure, he told me, the extra money would be nice, but he liked things as they were.

I asked him “Don’t you have any ambition to move up? To have more power and influence?”

He looked me dead in the eye and told me “No.” In his mind, the stress and responsibility that come from a higher role weren’t worth it.

He told me that he comes into the plant, works hard while he’s there, and then goes home to his family every night without exception. He doesn’t miss his kids’ birthday parties, and attends almost every soccer game and school play.  He told me he was happy with things the way they were.

Happy.

That’s not a word I hear a ton as a recruiter working with the Corrugated Industry.

It got me thinking, though. So often, professional success is defined as moving up the ladder. Success is taking on more responsibility, bigger roles, and the bigger paychecks that come with them. The assumption is always that that’s what’s going to make one happy.

But I can tell you, I know a lot of really miserable C-Level executives.

And even if that wasn’t the case, it follows that ambitious climbing of the ladder isn’t everyone’s goal. It can’t be.

As my Dad often told me growing up, “the world needs ditch diggers too.”

And there is absolutely nothing wrong with being a ditch digger. Or a janitor. Or a construction worker. Or an operator on a die cutter. Or any career, really. As long as you show up on time and work hard, all work is honorable in my mind. As long as the end result is that you can be happy, that’s the universal goal in my mind.

For some, professional achievement and advancement is the path to happiness. For others, it’s putting in 20 years as a Leadman and getting to go home every night to the wife and kids. For another group, it’s travelling the world, and for others it’s working hard to fix problems in their own communities.

So, my advice is simple: take some time and figure out what makes you happy.

If you’re rapidly climbing the professional ladder, but hate every minute of it, it’s probably time to slow down and figure out what you actually want to do. But, if you find that challenge thrilling and rewarding, climb away.

If your goal is to pick up the kids from school every day and be a constant figure in their lives, then there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that, and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

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