The Corporate Ladder: Climbing Versus Building Your Own

corporate ladder
One of the first things that propelled me to begin my escaping the 9 to 5 journey was horrifying concept of having to “climb the corporate ladder”. I knew as a young women that if I entered the traditional workforce I would most likely deal with glass ceilings, and most definitely have to deal with corporate bureaucracy.

The idea was off-putting to a lackluster student who already had trouble dealing with authority figures I (rightly or wrongly) perceived as incompetent and had no ability to schmooze corporate types. I knew I’d have gotten nowhere flat trying to climb a ladder that hopefully led to a position that provided enough income and autonomy to enjoy life.

Then one day, as learned more about entrepreneurship through reading biographies of people I admired, the concept hit me: why climb a corporate ladder when you could just build your own?

Throughout the years people often comment on the struggle of building a startup and the insecurity of working for yourself. I usually nod and say something banal like “you know it!” but in reality I’m thinking—as compared to what?

To working for someone else for twenty years just to be replaced by AI after you’ve given your heart and soul to the company?

To relative “security” of a 9 to 5 job that is disappearing and being disrupted right and left by outsourcing, the gig economy and robotics?

To dreading Mondays and craving the weekend?

To having a clear delineation between your “life” and your “work”?

Starting Zirtual, and it’s subsequent implosion, has been hands down the most challenging 5 years of my life. But it has also taught me more than I could possibly imagine, forged friendships that will last a lifetime and given me moments of ethereal joy even tampered with the crushing pain of failing.

Now, starting again, from scratch, with nothing but the things I’ve learned and relationships I’ve made—is hard. Perhaps even harder than the first time when I didn’t know what I was getting myself into.

Deciding on the end-of-life industry, creating The Memento Mori Society and starting to work on ZenFunerals have all taken time, struggle and often produced self doubt. But it’s not nearly as hard (in my mind) than the alternative.

I choose this pain. As entrepreneurs we sign up for this when we sign up for building something bigger than ourselves, for not accepting the status quo.

It’s certainly not as hard as spending 15 years at a job you can be fired from, or being foiled at every turn by incompetent upper management. To me it’s like comparing the pain of death by one thousand rusty scissor cuts to the pain of several months of a hard workout routine.

One is soul crushing pain that only gets worse the longer it goes on, the other is pain one chooses that leads to positive results in the end.

My generation has to thank the generation before, and the generation before them, for this opportunity—we’ve been enlightened, more or less, by observing the job woes of our parent’s generation and the near-caste like structure of our grandparent’s work lives.

So if you’re unhappy with your current employment situation: opt out of someone else’s ladder and build your own. You’ll start with a janky one-runged contraption that looks more like a stepping stool, but with smart work, dedication and a little luck, you can gradually build something as high as you please.

The question you must ask is: what is freedom worth to you?

2 years? 5 years? 10 years of hard, hard work… to me that’s a walk in the park, compared to the alternative.