Career Progression vs Life Progression & Why The DIfference Matters

People and life are like icebergs

Have you ever felt like your current career or life pale in comparison to people you know? Do you sometimes wonder how people the same age as you seem to have accomplished a lot more than you have?

This feeling of constantly comparing yourself unfavourably with other people is known as the “grass is greener” syndrome in psychology. And while it’s not something you may do obsessively, it can bring up deep feelings of jealousy, regret and bitterness. It could even make you so dissatisfied with your current situation, that you desperately try to change it.

Career Success Is Not Life Success

A Short Story

Early in my career, I remember one of my colleagues pulling me aside for a chat. Our department was broken into multiple teams. All the staff in our intake had all been promoted except the two of us.

They wanted to know how I felt about it, because we had been there for the same amount of timed were just as, if not more, capable than some of those who had been promoted. When we asked our managers about it, they said that everyone else got promoted a lot faster than normal, and that we were going at the “normal” pace.

Had they asked me earlier on that year, I would’ve told them I completely agreed with them, and vented about how our team wasn’t giving us proper recognition for our work.

What I Told Them

In the end, I told them that, whilst it sucked to be in the promotion slow lane, I was happy that I was finishing work at a reasonable hour most days and that I didn’t have to check my email outside off these hours. (That was back then anyway.) I also shared with hem how this gave me the flexibility to spend time with family and friends and to be fully engaged and present.

Finally, I told them that we needed to define what career and life success means for ourselves. From the outset, we both knew that our personal values were quite different from the rest of our cohort. While many of them were willing to put in a lot of time and energy into progressing up the ladder, we valued time spent in activities and with people outside of work.

Whilst we saw the fruits of their labour in the form of accelerated promotions, we didn’t see what they had given up to get there. For me at least, I didn’t see myself in that type of career in the long-term.

Put another way, it didn’t align with the type of life I wanted to lead.

We All Get The “Grass Is Greener” Syndrome Sometimes

Even though we know that we shouldn’t compare ourselves to others, it’s all too easy to feel discouraged or inferior when we hear about the stellar successes of people we know. Some people I went to school with are Bitcoin millionaires, and others are executives at big companies. When you have an “average” 9 to 5 life, the super-star success just seems so much more fun and impactful.

When this kind of thinking becomes chronic and goes too far, psychologists call it “grass is greener” syndrome.

People Are Like Icebergs

The problem is that to our brains, people are like icebergs. We see the pristine white surfaces bobbing above the surface and shining in the sun. But that’s all that we can see. And we often make judgments about them and ourselves based purely on what we can see superficially.

You’ll hardly ever get an opportunity to peer below the surface, to see the jagged edges and cracks underneath. And you’ll probably never see the great sacrifices or trade-offs these people had to make to get where they are.

This is important because, quite often, this isn’t the type of life that you personally want to live. It’s because:

  1. You’re not willing to pay the same costs or make the same sacrifices;
  2. The benefits aren’t as meaningful to you; or
  3. You just don’t want to live that kind of life.

Your life Is Like An Iceberg Too

And perhaps more morbidly, your life is also like an iceberg. Scientific studies show that the world’s icebergs are melting, and fast. And likewise, our lives are finite in every way. You have limited amounts of time, money, energy, strength and will. Every day that passes by, a little more of your time on this planet melts away with it.

Every day you chase after someone else’s dream is also a day less pursuing yours.

Trading Time For Money

Most of us spend 40 hours a week at work. Assuming that you join the workforce at 25, you’re going to spend 40 years of your life working if you retire at 65. If you hate what you do and just work to live, that’s a lot of time you’re giving up just to exist.

Now, think about the people who invest a lot of extra hours at the office in the name of quick career progression. In one sense, they’re trading more time for more money and career progression and status. They may love their job and enjoy that type of lifestyle. I don’t want to make any judgments here. This might be what you want – if it is, go for it!

But for those of you who aren’t wired that way, the trade isn’t worth it, because the result isn’t a type of life you want. You might be making career progression, but it’s detracting from your life progression. Spending more time at work means you’ll need to give up time and energy spent doing other things. And because our time on this earth is so limited, why would you want to do that if it’s not as important to you?

Why Not Both Career And Life Progression?

The real question you need to ask yourself is this: “Is career progression an important part of where you want to be in life?” If you’re willing to put in the time and effort needed to quickly climb the ranks, chances are that it is. But if it’s not something you care much about, you shouldn’t feel pressured or FOMO by all the other people around you doing it.

And no matter what you decide, there’s always going to be a cost. If you push for career progression, you’ll definitely need to invest a lot of time and energy to get there. Likewise, if you’re after a more balanced life in pursuit of side-projects or a quieter life, then you need to accept that you won’t progress in your career as quickly as others will. And that’s okay. As long as you’re progressing in the type of life you want to lead, you can be confident that you’re making the right choice.

Conclusion: Career And Life Progression On Your Own Terms

Career and life progression are both important. But they aren’t equally important depending on what matters to you.

Rather than looking at what your life could have been, value your time on earth as the gift that it is and enjoy it. If you like career progression, the fast-paced lifestyle and challenge, then that path is life progression for you. But if that’s not the life for you, then use your time pursuing and building things outside of your career that you care about.

Where are you going with your career? Does that line up with where you want to be in life? I’d love to hear in the comments below!

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