Career, Personal Finance Blog

Climbing the Corporate Ladder: A Slave to the Top?

Rat Race Corporate Ladder
Duane Hoffmann / MSNBC

Climbing the Corporate Ladder: A Slave to the Top?

I feel that it is important for me to start by saying that I have a lot of respect for many people in high-profile, executive positions.  We absolutely NEED people in these positions that are willing to lead, guide, coach and build businesses.  Most of these people have worked very hard climbing the corporate ladder, and have made big-time sacrifices to be where they are today.

A lot of these folks know exactly what it has cost them, and why they do what they do.  I know many people who have climbed the corporate ladder who are great leaders, great community members, volunteers, great providers, great mothers, fathers, and friends.  These people work to make a difference in other peoples’ lives.  This post is not about these people.  Enough with all the mushy stuff now… don’t worry guys/gals, I’m not busting your balls (or lack thereof) here.

This is a thought-provoking post, for people who are just working to keep up with the Joneses, who don’t understand the cost.  The point here, is to help you understand what some of these costs are, and get you thinking about “WHY” you do what you do.   At the end of the day, as long as you understand those things and are okay with them, you should go for it.  If you’re not okay with them, you should probably pause and re-evaluate your goals/priorities.

Climbing the Corporate Ladder: Beginning your career

Many of us begin our careers with dreams of climbing the corporate ladder.  One day, we’ll have that fancy high-profile job, be managing a group of employees, participating in more business meetings and be making high-level decisions.  If I just work hard, I can move up, add some responsibility, earn way more money and establish some respect. Right?

Unless your mom or dad hired you into the family business as a Vice President (even though you had ZERO work experience), when you are just starting your career you are the ‘low man on the totem pole.’  You have to get in and prove your worth to your superiors and your peers…  You have to grind it out and become a top sales producer, if you want to become a sales director or regional manager.  You’ve got to put in the effort and produce results if you want to do well in your career.

Climbing the Corporate Ladder: How High Can You Climb?

Depending on how far you want to go, you have to do that every time you land a new position, or climb another rung on the corporate ladder.  You landed that sales director role, so you want to be a regional manager?  What does that mean? A few more business trips, conferences and trade shows, a few more internal meetings, and a few more hours in exchange for a hefty bump in compensation.

How about Vice President?  Now we’re talking! What about Sr. Vice President, or CEO?  What’s the trade-off there? Even more business trips? A calendar full of days crammed with internal meetings? Checking and responding to emails at night? 60-75 hour work weeks? In other words, a terrible work-life balance – all so you can continue to live paycheck to paycheck?

Wait? Paycheck to paycheck at the VP and C-Suite levels?

Yep, quite possibly!  This isn’t the case for everyone, but you’ll probably need fancier clothes, be doing a lot more travel, and buying more stuff.  You’ll need a bigger house for your fancy new things – and just to show others how successful you are if keeping up with the Joneses is something that’s important to you.  You’ll probably want to upgrade your cars too… get yourself a shiny new SUV or Mercedes.  Since you’re working so hard, you’ll probably need to take a few more vacations for some much-needed relaxation.

Since you’re not home as much, you’ll probably need to spend a little more on daycare, or maybe even hire a nanny.  Who has time to cook with that kind of schedule, anyway?  Busy, Busy, Busy!  You’d better increase your dining out budget.  You’ll probably have more social events to go to… The Joneses like to hang around other Joneses after all.

Climbing the Corporate Ladder:  A View From the Top

Now that you’ve made it to the top, do you have more freedom?  Has your work-life balanced improved?  Are you leading a more fulfilling life? Are you able to save more money finally – now that you’re making (but still spending) tons of it?  You started your career as the low man on the totem pole – a ‘slave to the top’ – how is life different for you now?  Has lifestyle creep kept you in bondage even though you’ve finally ‘made it?’

If you haven’t noticed by now, the irony is that you will forever be a slave to the top until YOU decide that you will no longer be.

If you’re not careful, you’ll be a slave to the top, even when you reach the top.


It’s funny how your desires change as you mature, isn’t it?  At some point, the rat race just isn’t worth it for most people.  If our desire is to have everything, we’ll never have enough.  We will never be satisfied.  So much of our focus will be on what we don’t have, that we’ll never be able to value what we do have.  So ask yourself, “When is enough, really ENOUGH?”

I’m not saying that career aspirations aren’t a good thing; they are.  What I’m saying is that it is important to know what you’re exchanging (in life) during your climb.  And – if you’re okay with those tradeoffs – that if you decide to continue the climb, that it is equally important to know “WHY” you are doing it and how far you really want to go.

2 thoughts on “Climbing the Corporate Ladder: A Slave to the Top?

  1. Asking the question “What is enough?” is such an important question that most people never ask during their climb up the corporate ladder. I think that’s why lifestyle inflation is so prevalent. It’s so natural to spend more as we earn more. Great post and I look forward to reading more 🙂

    1. You’re exactly right, Zach… It is very natural… that’s why it’s so important to always question “WHY” we are doing what we do. Our lifestyle/spending should reflect the things that are important to us and our values. If not, those are things we have the power to change!

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