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Has anyone else lost desire to climb the corporate ladder?

I'm only 6.5 years into my career, which has largely been in consulting (though punctuated by two internal program management roles). I've always been the Type A, high achiever, whose initial aim was to get as far as I could as fast as I could. My reputation was built upon my achievements and successes, and my identity very tied to my work.

After suffering several stints of burnout, witnessing the sacrifices of those who rose the ranks, and building a rich personal life over the past few years (rediscovering hobbies, building new friendships, regaining my health), I no longer want to keep climbing. I just want to do a good enough job at a good enough job, and "hang out" comfortably / enjoy my well-rounded life. I'm not sure if this is continued burnout disguised as a lack of motivation, or if my ambitions really have changed. I'm not yet 30 so I feel like I'm calling it quits too early in my career, so of course have entered a cycle of guilt and overthinking. Interested to know if anyone else has had a similar experience.

The fact that you feel this way before 30 means you've realized something important a lot sooner than most people. We don't live to work, point blank. Employers don't like that, but it is the truth.
^^^^ YES!!! We have it totally backwards. Working (and generating an income) is supposed to be a means to living life. I love the work I get to do - AND - it's still work. I know how dangerous it is to make it my whole identity. It's ONE aspect of who I am as a person. You're not "calling it quits too early in your career" - you're right-sizing how you want your career to fit into your life. And it's amazing that you're doing it before 30! GO YOU! You're going to feel weird feelings because it's counter-cultural to do this. Cheering you on and everyone else who struggles with this. It's worth it!
Thank you for posting! I don't think you're necessarily calling quit in your career, you've just identified what matters most to you and that's great! A thought I just had, perhaps the corporate life isn't just for you (and not sure what kind of consulting you were doing but it's a very tough lifestyle for a lot of people!)Here's a piece for you https://elpha.com/posts/4o606gf4/how-to-tell-my-micromanaging-boss-i-don-t-want-to-improve-in-my-next-performance-review and check a resource we put out https://elpha.com/resources/how-to-prepare-for-performance-review scroll to "…you aren’t feeling motivated to develop or grow within the role"
Oh @Mable150, you are describing the first few years of a typical consulting career: high-achieving, ambitious graduate joins a prestigious consulting firm in a well-paid role with the opportunity to work with big-name clients on transformative projects. There are long hours of highly demanding work, a lot of which is double work, as it's necessary to incorporate the comments and foibles of internal (mainly senior) stakeholders and clients in multiple feedback loops. This is not sustainable. Everyone knows this, and many who chose a consulting career (you find the same dynamics in law firms) are just pushing through the ranks until they become Partner and can increasingly delegate their work to the next generation of incoming graduates. It's a phenomenon called "up or out". Those who quit at mid-career level are on a fast track to senior management in big corporations, and end up in the position to hire the same consulting firms they left. The upside is that you do get exposure to interesting work, can build up an amazing network, and there are countless opportunities to learn at a very fast pace the skills that will carry you throughout your career. I understand your desire to kick back and enjoy life, and would like to remind you that even that has a price: possibly a lower income, less "prestige", or fewer growth opportunities for your smart, curious mind. So take a moment to think about the life(style) that you want to live and what your ideal income would be. Do some research on alternative job opportunities that would match the dream that you have in mind. Imagine yourself in these roles, and check in with yourself to see what resonates. Don't discount the option to stay put; just don't try and do it on your own. See if you can find a mentor or sponsor—someone who can share their own career story and encourage/ advise you on how best to navigate the environment. Also, connecting with peers in the same situation can potentially help you feel that you are not alone in your struggle.It's not too early or too late to pivot, and I hope that these reflections help you with your decision.I wish you all the best and am happy to have a chat if you need more support. Feel free to slide into my DMs.
You are totally not alone. I’ve worked in tech for 15+ years and now work for myself as a career coach. I hear from more and more sentiment like this from young women in tech. I believe the traditional corporate “carrot and stick” no longer works. Yet, People still feel held back for the exact reasons (guilt, doubt, and shame).This is actually the beginning of whole new possibilities when you no longer believe the conditioned life is good enough. Good luck! Happy to talk more if you’d like!
I wish I’d realized it sooner! I was recently approached about a lead role at a prominent place. Earlier in my career, I would have jumped. But I don’t want to relocate, supervise 80 people, deal with being scrutinized from the outside, etc.. I’d rather work independently, even in this tough environment. I just landed a client that I very much hope will turn into a great relationship.
I got to this point at around age 31! It’s so freeing! Although, my brain does still do that thing of dreaming about “what’s next,” it’s just no longer the idea of promotion and climbing the ladder that excites or motivates me. I now dream about the day my financials allow me to leave the corporate world and do something I enjoy. I have a family to provide for, so that day is still far away, but it lives within my day dreams!
This resonated with me so much. I’m in my early 30s and also came to this realization and hope to also leave the corporate world to do something I enjoy (or maybe find out what I love within the corporate world) one day. Thanks for your insight!
Yes corporate life was not for me. I left and started my own business. Best decision I ever made! I now work my job around my life and not my life around my job.I decided to make me rich and not my employer.
I agree with @MorganLucas! Life is too short. Listen to what your mind and body are trying to convey. Pivot and focus on what agrees with your full self. Don't pressure yourself to think too much about the future - it never goes as we plan anyway!
I have been so much happier since I realized that my career doesn't define me as a person. I like the work I do and I do it well but I don't feel the need to be at the top. I think as a society we put too much pressure on people to get to the top and to want to be there, but it isn't for everyone. We also need a good balance of strong leaders and individual contributors in an organization. Realizing that you can be a strong individual contributor and still be a leader without the headaches of management, has been a huge unlock.
Oh man this thread is everything. I started my CS career back in 2011. In my early days I was hungry and made my personal brand, leading to promotions and more exciting projects to work on. It also helped me get into some really cool startups. However, throughout the last 7 years there have been significant personal life changes that have really forced me to look at what’s important. I’m no longer in my 20s working in Midtown Manhattan eager to make a statement. I’m a single almost 40 year old living in the suburbs with a mortgage. My commute is from one side of the house to the other. I wear workout pants and a top that’s easy to change for when I have a break and want to ride my exercise bike or go for a longer walk, or jump in the pool for my lunch break in the summer. I like being able to take a few hours and drive to my grandparents house to work from their dining room table and just be there while they’re still here. Or having my sister who’s a single mom come over with my nephew & her laptop when she needs a break & we take turns entertaining him between calls. I’ve attempted to climb the ladder of success and I did well for the first 10 years of my career. I’ve also worked for people who have been obsessed with the company we worked at and that’s not the life I want. I give 100% at work, and put my best foot forward always but I’m not compromising what’s important to me anymore. I also just went through 6 months of unemployment and 50+ interviews which has been eye opening. All the buzz words in the job descriptions but where is the walk to accompany the talk. Anyway, all of this to say yes it may have started with burn out but it also sounds like you’ve decided what’s important and aren’t willing to go above and beyond anymore. I’m happy being an IC forever as long as I’m paid well, and maybe get creative with some side work eventually. But this corporate working our fingers to the bone BS is long gone for me - sounds like for you too.
Hi Mable, Firstly - well done for recognising how you're feeling & also for reaching out for support! The key thing during these moments is to recognise what's happening & get a range of ideas for moving forward. A few comments from my side:1) I too was/am Type A, high achiever in college & thrived off getting great grades or results. However, in the corporate world, we cannot achieve in the same way as in school or college. > In education, there is a clear 'result' - we get a grade, we pass an exam, we move onto the next stage. In the corporate world, these achievement markers are not so clear and a lot of times they are out of our control. We may do our best, work hard, do long hours, but our results may not be great due to external factors such as company demands or client demands. >Additionally, unlike in education, there is no end point. In education, the exam or the assignment deadline was an endpoint, but in the corporate world, there is no such cut-off point, which may leave you feeling like you're chasing a never-ending goal.2) It also sounds like consulting is taking a lot from you. I would explore other industries or roles that would be less fast-paced, less demanding, require fewer hours. Consulting is notorious for a lack of a work/life balance. It may be that if you change into a different industry and company, you will get back your free time and your energy, and find that balance. I moved from consulting to tech, and it allowed me to get my free time back! 3) It also sounds like you are shifting from achieving for the sake of achieving, to putting your energy into something that's meaningful to you. Aiming to be 'the best' or aiming to be 'successful' is easy to do when we're in education because of those very clear markers I mentioned above. However, this is not sustainable or possible in corporate. I would take time to explore if there's anything specific you want to achieve in your career or your life, and work towards that specific goal.4) In defining what you want out of a career, I'd also focus on the experience rather than a job title. So rather than saying ' I want to be partner/director/ceo', you can reframe it as: 'I want a role where I have control over my schedule, where I can log off at 6pm, where I have opportunities for growth, where my skills are well used and where I feel challenged.'Hope that helps!
When you're at this stage, it looks like burnout. Choosing not to pursue that definition of achievement you've been focused on feels like giving up.After you've taken a pause to de-couple yourself from that definition of achievement, interesting things start to happen. You start to have a clearer view of what the ecosystem around those achievements actually was. You may get angry when you identify the factors out of your control that held you back, or people that you think should've advocated for you. You may feel down when you realize from hindsight what you might do differently. You may also feel relieved about the path you didn't want to go that you were feeling pressured into – and you will see more clearly how artificial and company-specific those can be. This is where peace of mind can start. When you can stand apart from it, you can evaluate it, and you can make up your own mind about where you want to make your impact. It may not be on that definition of achievement at all. I did find that when I switched from in-house to independent work that I am in a better position to make a greater impact and advocate for what should be done. Because...they hired me. I don't feel beholden to a larger plan with them because there isn't one. You can be a high achiever by your own rules and your own focus.
Echoing what everyone else here is saying in that you should trust your gut and so many other women feel similarly. This can be an unlock for you to an exciting new chapter as many other women have shared - starting a business, taking on a role outside of consulting that's less high pressure or something else. The point is it's great you're listening to your instincts and allow that to guide you. Also from what I've seen around 30 is when people start to realize they might have been approaching their careers on auto-pilot. It can happen at any age, but I have friends that have pivoted from their tech careers and gone to culinary school around this age and so much more.Something else to think about is maybe it's the particular environment you're in. Climbing shouldn't feel like such a grovel. If you're good at what you do and value work/life balance maybe there's another company out there where you can employ your leadership skills without having to give up your entire life.
Hi, applause for your self-honesty and self-awareness! It sounds like a healthy recognition of tying your identity to achievement. I work as a transformational coach and regularly meet many people asking the same questions. Sometimes it's just that corporate life (at least the burnout-inducing setup we have) isn't for them, but more often their lack of motivation is a cue that there's something else they want to explore. So it might be worth exploring what lights you up, if you set aside for a moment all constraints about what makes for a successful career track or what's possible for you--so you can more clearly see if there's anything else that motivates you, or if you're satisfied as you are, rather than frame your current situation as a lack of motivation.I also used to be type-A and a high-achiever and tried multiple things--engineering, academia, product management. Now I'm a coach and writer.I wrote an article about this journey, how heart-wrenching it was, and the insights I gained: https://open.substack.com/pub/anubha/p/finding-your-lifes-workI also have an upcoming program for solopreneurs who're building a business rooted in a spirit of service and creativity!https://www.anubhakothari.com/soulopreneurcircleGood luck!
Your experience resonates deeply with a journey many face in their careers, particularly those who start out with a high-achieving, Type-A mindset. It's a pivotal moment where you're reassessing what success and fulfillment mean to you, beyond the traditional markers of career advancement.Firstly, it's important to acknowledge that your feelings are valid and not uncommon. Many individuals, especially in high-pressure environments like consulting, reach a point where they reevaluate their priorities. The transition from a relentless pursuit of career advancement to seeking a more balanced life is a natural evolution for many.Your shift in perspective might not necessarily be burnout or a lack of motivation, but rather a realignment of your values and what you deem essential in life. It's okay to redefine success on your own terms. This doesn't mean you're 'calling it quits' too early; rather, it shows an understanding of your needs. That you are setting boundaries to maintain a healthy work-life balance.However, the guilt and overthinking you're experiencing are also understandable. Society often glorifies constant career progression and undervalues the importance of personal wellbeing and a fulfilling life outside work. It's a challenge to break free from that mindset, especially when your identity has been so closely tied to your career achievements.Your career is a marathon, not a sprint. It's perfectly fine to take a phase of your career at a slower pace, especially if it brings you more joy and peace. This doesn't mean you won't have opportunities for growth or advancement in the future. You're just choosing a path that's better aligned with your current values and life goals.If you're looking for personal anecdotes, I've seen many high achievers who've taken a step back to focus on personal growth or other aspects of life. Some have later returned to their careers with renewed energy and perspective, while others found new paths that were more fulfilling. The key is to listen to yourself and make choices that align with your true desires, not external expectations.Perhaps talk to a career coach or mentor who can provide a neutral perspective and help you navigate these feelings. They can assist in clarifying whether this is a temporary phase or a more permanent shift in your career aspirations. It's your life and career, and only you can decide the best path forward. Be kind to yourself...
I completely feel you! And I admire that you realize that now, and not later. I'm solidly middle-aged and that lost desire to reach the C-suite only recently dawned on me. But now that it has, I feel much lighter. I don't need to make tons and tons of money. My family and my health are my priorities and I won't sacrifice them. I can make good money but keep my sanity intact.
I want to be friends!!!! (((For real))) I've "made it" professionally in the view of everyone else and I'm irritated and tired and care less and less. I also don't really want to work more (which would mean evenings or weekends) and I don't know what other option for "leadership" there is out there. My five year plan is more so like an exit plan and coast around plan than a become a senior director plan.
Oh yes. I've been burnt out several times. And given the number of comments -- we are definitely not alone!I experienced burnout for the first time at 17. I was doing THE MOST (tennis for 2 hours, tons of AP classes, clarinet, piano) and it was all enforced by my parents. I couldn't handle the pressure, was super exhausted all the time, and my therapist coined it a "quarterlife crisis", heh.Later on, after 10 years in engineering, I experienced burnout during the pandemic. I was managing a tech team and leading them through the pandemic, layoffs, a reorg, a coworker getting murdered during the asian attacks -- it was all a lot and I overextended myself.I quit my job.The money was great, the title impressive -- but it was not worth it.Ambitious can be your own definition. I've redefined my own criteria to mean flexibility of work, opportunity creation for women, and taking up well-deserved space. Tangibly, this looks like coaching women in tech and running my own business! Ambitiously :)Tell us more about your well-rounded life! What are the other facets?Sarah
YOU DON'T GET FIRED FROM YOUR FAMILYGlad you figured that out early on.Some people lose their families, then their jobs, and only after, understand they did everything wrong