Don’t Lean Your Ladder Against the Wrong Wall

First, let me be clear, I’m not afraid of heights.  I love flying and I’ve stood on high peaks in Alaska.  I didn’t get that close to the edge of a sheer side, but I’ve been on the summit.  Yet, there is something about bridges, staircases and ladders that erases all reason from my mind and replaces it with the most ridiculous ideas.  Ladders.  My fear of ladders, including stepladders, is that I will climb up and a giant will come up behind me and push me off.  Hey – it could happen.

So when I climb a ladder, it is a cautious deliberate process, checking behind me all the time.  If repairing something, I have on sturdy boots with a good grip.  I have on knee pads so I can lean into the ladder without hurting my knees.  I have my toolbelt with every tool, screw, and nail I might need.  I don’t want to climb the ladder more times than absolutely necessary.  Once, when I was talked into painting our house by my wife Jackie, who shall remain nameless, I needed to paint the trim at the peak of the roof in front – 25 feet off the ground. I set up the ladder and made sure it was planted firmly into the ground.  I had my boots, my gloves, my kneepads, my toolbelt in case I needed to repair the wood, my hat, my googles, and a really neat hook, specially made to hold the paint can and keep it from falling.  My preparation complete, I started up the ladder and slowly climbed to the top.  I took a few looks behind me to make sure there were no giants around, and I started…no paint brush.

I looked down from the dizzying height and I could see the brushes on the steps to the porch.  I stayed up there for a good five minutes seriously considering just using my hand to paint the trim.

I told you that true story to tell you this one.

You go through school, you graduate, you go to a technical school or a college, this is the preparation phase.  Then you earn your certificate, get your license, you graduate, and you start your career – climbing the ladder of success.

My first climb on the ladder to success was at a gourmet food store.  (I leaned my ladder on retail business.) I made it to store manager.  I enjoyed talking with the customers, but that was about it.  I didn’t like trying to talk people into something they might not like.  As a manager, I spent a lot of time making orders, checking inventory, figuring pricing for profit margins, and doing payroll.  I spent less time with customers, I realized I was not going to be happy in that career.

I saw an ad for a great paying job with a large insurance company in their Medicare Division.  (I leaned my ladder on corporate business.) I applied for it, got the job, and left the gourmet food store.  At first the work was interesting, I moved around to different operational tasks each day.  I was meeting and working with different claims examiners.  Because I was doing a good job, my supervisor recommended me for a Claims Examiner position with a nice raise.  Being a claims examiner was hours of sitting.  Hours of trying to read a doctor’s handwriting to determine what procedure had been performed.  Finding the procedures in the manual, making sure to find the right code or combination of codes to put in the computer so the senior examiners could determine how much Medicare was going to pay the doctor.

After a few years with the company I was burnt out.  (I’m looking down from the ladder again.) I thought that if I could hold on, I could become a senior examiner (more money).  I talked with a few of the senior examiners I knew.  They didn’t like their jobs; it was about the money.  I was just sitting one day thinking about my job and dreading going to work.  I thought about how I always wanted to be a teacher, but I did not have enough money for college full-time.  Then I heard a commercial, “In the Air Force you can serve your country and learn valuable skills while you earn money for college.”  A great number of my close and extended family served in the Armed Forces. We are patriots!  I could do this and get money for college!  I went to see a recruiter and I signed up.

Best decision I ever made!  In each assignment I became a trainer in the unit.  (I finally put my ladder on the right wall, the wall where my passion always was: Learning and Development.)  I learned more about instruction and leadership in my first two years than I had in my entire life.  I had other duties besides training, but I was doing it, I was teaching, and I was getting promoted faster than usual.  When I left the Air Force, I had a job with AmeriCorps (which also provided money for college) as a music arts teacher in their Children of the Future program.  From there I got my teaching license and a job in a school district developing curriculum and assisting in programs for career-technical education in the arts.  Next, I managed a program at The Ohio State University for adult students in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math disciplines called the Ohio STEM Ability Alliance.  Now, in my job with Goodwill Columbus as a Career Facilitator, my primary responsibility is instructing people of all ages and backgrounds in the Workforce Development Career Boot Camp.

When you get ready to climb the ladder of your career, you put it against the wall of your knowledge, skills, abilities, and your passion.  When you make your career goals relevant to your passion you can enjoy each day that you go to work.  When you enjoy your work, you may find that extra bonus that makes work fulfilling: helping others.  Not matter what your career – when you see it in the light of how you are helping others, you will get up each day with purpose! 

As you get ready for the climb, prepare and keep learning so you can make your progress up to the highest rung you desire.  Make sure your career ladder is leaned against the right wall, the wall where your passion and skills are.  Your passions and skills will serve you first and then before you know it, you will be helping others.  Choose the right wall. I don’t believe that anyone would want to repeatedly look down and realize there is something missing.  Each of us has passions, strengths, and skills that we can turn into a career.  Figure out where your ladder should be and prepare yourself for the climb.

And keep an eye out for the giants.

Victor Johnson

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