Climbing the ladder

We’ve all heard that cliché about “climbing the ladder” in our careers. But be honest: Have you felt that way with every job you’ve taken?

Exactly. The truth is, most of us have a story about taking a job that wasn’t quite what we wanted.

Maybe biding time until you landed the dream job wasn’t viable (because…rent). Or maybe you stuck around a company much longer than you expected because the money was good, so were the benefits, and you had things going on in your personal life that took priority. Maybe you chose an industry because it was what your parents wanted for you, despite the fact that at some point, you knew it was a bad fit.

You’re not alone. Most of us have stories like these.

In a recent Capital One survey, 22% of respondents admitted that they had yet to define their career goals or career path. And 77% admitted that, at one point or another, they’d knowingly taken a job that didn’t align with their goals or values.

Earlier this month, we attended a Capital One-hosted panel where a handful of influencers, career experts, and entrepreneurs from companies including LinkedIn and Zappos discussed finding their unique career paths. The common theme? That you need to do it on your own terms, not anyone else’s. Here are the five takeaways that resonated most:


Money is—and always will be—a motivator in terms of your career decisions. It may not be a romantic thing to acknowledge, but anyone who tells you differently is either a) nuts or b) fortunate enough to have a massive trust fund that will set them up for life.

One panelist, Gwen Lane (founder of The LA Girl), explained that while her first job out of college might’ve been the dream for many, within a couple months, she knew it wasn’t the right fit for her. Money was a huge motivator for taking the position.

“The real world looms over you the day after you graduate when you realize, ‘Oh hey, who’s going to pay my rent? Who’s going to pay for my car? My insurance?’ That financial burden starts to creep up and the fear comes in,” said Lane.

All real concerns, but that meant little to no time for soul-searching. “And so instead of giving myself the time to explore and figure out what I really wanted, I felt like I was pushed into it by myself and then by the pressure of growing up and going into the real world,” Lane explained.

To keep money concerns from overshadowing your other values, you need to educate yourself. Sit down and calculate how much money you need to live comfortably. There are two numbers, actually. One is what you need to survive, and one is what you need to thrive. Write them down, so you can keep them in mind as you consider moving jobs, launching your own business, or taking a promotion.

Having a clear visual of where you stand with your finances will allow you to focus less on money stress and more on your career goals.




If you haven’t done some soul-searching, how can you possibly know what your values are? And if you don’t know your values, how can you find a career that honors them?

Defining your values is the first step to finding a fulfilling job, then career, then life. So yes, they’re pretty essential.



But you can’t always just skip the bad jobs, especially if you’re building experience or just starting out. That’s OK. It’s about keeping sight of what you want to do ultimately and focusing on the values and skills you’re learning, rather than on the job itself.



Whether it’s your parents, friends, or schoolmates, everyone has an opinion on what you should be doing. In fact, you might even be putting pressure on yourself to do something that’s not in line with your values, simply because you think that’s what you should want.



Inevitably, we talk about millennials and what they value. And yes, there are clear trends there. In the Capital One survey, millennials and Gen Xers cited the importance of a high paying salary (39% and 40% respectively) to a degree that baby boomers didn’t (only 21%). So does that mean that our generations care more about money than our other values?

Maybe on paper, but that doesn’t mean you have to be part of that 39%.

“Stop thinking of yourself as millennials. Stop putting yourself into a category that anyone else has put you into,” said Wolske, “You are job seekers. You are skill holders. You are passionate people.”

Define your values as they matter to you, and not because they seem like they should be part of your values. Your career path doesn’t have to look like anyone else’s.

“Don’t let the world pigeonhole you into ‘I’m a millennial’ anything,’ Wolske continued. “Bring your best to the table. Show people that while you may be born in a certain timeframe, you’re going to be an amazing and valuable employee.”

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