How To Grow In Your Job—Without Climbing The Corporate Ladder

September 4, 2018

It's okay to be comfortable in your job

If you were to believe previous generations (and many do), the only way to achieve success in your career is to “climb the corporate ladder.” Starting from the bottom and working your way to the very top is the American dream — it’s what everyone wants. Right?

Not necessarily.

Three months into my job, a management position opened up. My boss and a few well-meaning co-workers encouraged me to apply for it. Now, it wasn’t that I was some shining star or anything like that; it’s just that we were a startup and didn’t have much time to rest on our laurels. For a company that wasn’t quite two years old, three months was a considerable amount of time. But I was reluctant. I barely had a grasp on what I was doing, and I certainly didn’t feel confident enough to tell others how to go about doing it.

I decided not to go after the position — not that time, or the many times since in the five years I’ve worked there. After much soul searching, I’ve come to the conclusion that I would be a terrible manager. Not only that, I’m happy right where I am. I like what I do, and I want to continue doing it.

For a while, I was concerned that my eagerness to stay in my cheerful little rut would get me labeled as lazy or unenthusiastic. However, after turning down the opportunity to go after a role in management for the fifth time, I reached out to the head of production at my organization and had an hour-long conversation about why I wanted to remain where I was and how it appeared to upper management. He assured me that I would not be fired for declining to move upwards in the company, and that they were quite pleased with my work as it was.

That, friends, is the first time I realized that it was okay to throw the corporate ladder aside and do my own thing. And it’s alright for you to do the same.

You Don’t Have to Climb The Ladder

There’s nothing wrong with being content where you are. It’s perfectly acceptable to not have the desire to move “up.” If your job makes you happy — your work is fulfilling, you’re making enough money, and you have a good relationship with your manager and coworkers — it’s okay to want to remain exactly where you are.  

Career paths don’t have to be cookie-cutter — everyone prefers a different pace or challenge. Some people don’t want the responsibility that comes with leadership roles. Others may prefer to focus on their family and not put in in the 60+ hours per week often required of a manager. And, the truth is, some people simply want to put in their hours, go home, and not think about work until it’s time to go back.

Fortunately, higher-ups at certain companies are starting to see the benefit of those of us who are happy to stay put. Kim Scott, a former Google and Apple exec, calls us “rock stars.” In an interview with Business Insider, she described us as being the source of stability on a team, and pointed out that in any business, it’s important to balance stability and growth.

Ways to Improve Yourself (Without the Pressure)

When your annual review rolls around — and you don’t have the desire to move up — what do you say to your boss when they ask “where do you want to go?” It’s not that you lack confidence or drive; you just really like your job as it currently is. But how do you answer the question without sounding like a total slacker?

Avoiding the corporate ladder doesn’t mean stagnating. There are plenty of ways to improve yourself and become a stronger employee without having to move vertically.

How To Grow In Your Job—Without Climbing The Corporate Ladder

Learn More About Your Industry

There’s nothing better than increasing your knowledge base and getting a really good handle on what’s happening in your industry. You can do this by reading industry blogs, following experts on social media, taking e-courses, viewing webinars, and attending conferences and trade shows. The more you learn, the more likely you are to become a trusted source for information on the goings-on in your industry. You’ll find co-workers, executives, and even outsiders turning to you for help and advice. Management is bound to take notice!

Brush Up On Your Soft Skills

Communication, critical thinking, self-motivation, problem-solving, responsibility, teamwork, conflict resolution — in the business world these are referred to as soft skills. Also known as “people skills,” soft skills are personal attributes that are absolutely fundamental to a successful career. Not only are they needed when interacting with customers and clients, they are also important when it collaborating with colleagues. Employers love soft skills because they’re what enables the kind of teamwork that makes an organization thrive.

There are a number of things you can do to improve your soft skills. Practice active listening and reading the body language of others. Improve your problem-solving skills through puzzles and games. Boost your creativity by throwing yourself into a hobby or visiting museums for inspiration. Consider taking courses in writing, speaking, and conflict resolution. And most importantly, read! Read everything you can get your hands on regarding these skills.

Join (or Start) a Committee

Almost every office has a committee or two, and joining up comes with a whole host of benefits. You’ll acquire specialized knowledge and skills, get valuable practice working on a team, have the opportunity to network with people from other departments, and influence decisions that impact your company and your quality of life. It’s also looks great on your yearly review.

If your company doesn’t have any active committees — or there aren’t any you’re particularly interested in — consider starting one of your own. Popular committees include those dedicated to environmental improvements, cultural activities, and employee wellness. Write up a proposal, discuss it with management, recruit co-workers, and start making a change for the better!

Career Aptitude Tests

If you’ve never taken a career aptitude test, you’re in for a treat. Career aptitude tests help you get a better understanding of yourself and your work style. They often reveal what kind of work environments you’re most likely to flourish in, and what aspects are most important to you in a career.

Take one or two aptitude tests and research how to improve your career based on your results. For instance, my Myers-Briggs personality type is INFJ. In my research on the subject, I’ve found that INFJs are hyper-organized and prefer to work independently in quiet surroundings. Since all of this rang particularly true, I worked with my managers to arrange my daily tasks and environment in such a way as to allow me to deliver top quality work. I’ve never been happier at work than I am now!


If you’re not the type to climb the corporate ladder, don’t despair. There are countless ways to contribute to the success of your company — advancement is only one of them. The next time your boss brings up a potential promotion, take the opportunity to have an honest conversation about your wish to stay where you are. As long as you communicate how doing so is of benefit to both you and the organization — and that you’ll still continue to pursue other forms of growth — everything will work out fine.

How To Grow In Your Job—Without Climbing The Corporate Ladder

How do you define career success?

Also by Liz: Back In The Nest? Moving In With Your Parents Isn’t Failure—How To Make It Work

Related: Sweating The Small Stuff? Why Thinking Big Will Make Head Way In Your Career

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Liz Greene is a makeup enthusiast, rabid feminist, and an anxiety-ridden realist from the beautiful city of trees, Boise, Idaho. You can follow her latest misadventures on her blog, Three Broke Bunnies


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