It’s the American way. Keep moving up the ladder. Success is measured by how far you climb. Your self-worth depends upon it.
You’ve heard those clichés. Perhaps you’ve been pressured by those societal pushes. Granted, a number of people continue to move from promotion to promotion, better pay to better pay, and they thrive in their new challenges.
But for a number of people, that next job is a disaster waiting to happen. It could be in another organization, or it could be a promotion where you are right now. And though it’s not always considered “the American way,” sometimes the best thing you can do is say no.
Family and Personal Reasons
I was in recent conversation with a pastor of a church. The church has an attendance around 250. He has recently been inundated with opportunities to move to larger churches, including a key staff position at a megachurch. For now, he has said no for a number of reasons, most of them related to his family.
The pastor understands God’s call in the context of his family and their specific needs. His only ambition is to please God and to be a godly leader of his family.
I was in another conversation with an extremely smart lady in the corporate world. She has all the abilities and intellect to move rapidly up the corporate ladder. But she is happy in her present role, and has no desire to do anything differently, at least for now. The prestige of promotions and higher pay means little when she is already content and happy in her current position.
Both this man and this woman said no, even though I have little doubt they would have excelled in the other roles they could have had. But other times we need to say no because the potential job is simply not a fit for who we are.
The Peter Principle and Jim Collins’ Bus
Laurence J. Peter and Raymond Hull, in their 1969 book The Peter Principle, observed that employees tend to rise to their level of incompetence. As they do well in one position, they are promoted. If they do well in that position, they will be promoted again. Eventually they are promoted to a position where they cannot perform well.
I prefer Jim Collins’ metaphor of the bus in his classic book Good to Great. The bus represents the organization. Those organizations that do well give a priority to “getting the right people on the bus.” But Collins notes that it’s not only important to get them on the bus, but to get them in “the right seat on the bus.” Simply stated, some people do well in some jobs, and they don’t do well in others.
A few years ago, a man asked me forthrightly if he should accept a position as pastor of a church. Since he asked, I responded in all honesty that I saw his abilities and gifts more suited for his current role as a support staff rather than as a lead pastor. He took the lead pastor position anyway. He spent two miserable years in that role before being encouraged to move on by leaders in the congregation.
I have seen too many people in the corporate world attracted by the money and prestige of the “next job,” who did not have the skills necessary to do the job well. They become miserable as they experience failure after failure. They are often fired or demoted.
Looking in the Mirror
Nothing is wrong with ambition. Nothing is wrong with desiring advances in career and life. What is wrong is thinking that the next step, the next promotion, the next organization, and the next pay increase will bring us joy. That attitude makes joy ever elusive.
Even worse, that next step or next organization may prove to be disastrous. We can find that we are not qualified for the position or that our abilities and gifts do not align well for our work. And so we discover that the position that we thought would bring us joy instead brings us frustration and misery.
The secure man or woman looks honestly in the mirror. He or she knows where the best fit is for his or her work and career. And that means that sometimes the seemingly good offer from the much-desired organization is not really as good as we first thought. So we say no to that new job or promotion. And in doing so we begin to learn where true joy is found and where true contentedness resides.