There are so many idioms for rising in our careers.

  • Climbing the corporate ladder

  • Breaking the glass ceiling

  • Upward mobility

There’s one commonality here, they’re all vertical. They all point to one career trajectory, up.

The reality is our careers can, and perhaps even need to, move horizontally at times to get after what’s next.

Enter our 26th president of the United States.

Teddy Roosevelt’s career was driven from a place of values, passion and curiosity, which included many horizontal moves before landing at what might ultimately be considered the top of the career ladder, President of the US.

Roosevelt lost both his mother and wife on the same day when he was only 25 years old. According to Doris Kearns Goodwin’s new book, Leadership in Turbulent Times, his reaction in the face of this devastating adversity was not to climb higher on the ladder he was currently scaling, but to “take whatever job came his way where he thought he could do good.” Realigning and focusing his career on what was most meaningful to him after going through the intense heartache of loss.

This shift in meaning and perspective had him leaving the NY state legislator to focus on other ways he could have an impact and grow in his career.

He became the head of the US Civil Service Commission, then NYC Police commissioner, joined the army, became governor of New York, then Vice President and finally a US President.

It was a winding path toward the ultimate leadership position, but one that no doubt made him a far better leader because of the accumulation of experiences over time.

The reminder here is that career growth isn’t always upwards. As you’re thinking about what’s next for you on your path toward realizing your full leadership potential, and the impact you’re looking to have in your career, be cognizant of getting caught in the “nowhere to go but up” trap.

Explore what opportunities might help you grow and expand in your career, what positions align fully with your values, the impact you hope to have, and the leader you purposefully and intentionally want to be.

Get clear and curious about what will help you learn, help you grow and then step confidently in that direction… even if you move horizontally.

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