Do you feel like a Ferrari trapped in a retirement village? You might be experiencing the 30-Something Ceiling.
Are you having restless nights punctuated with vivid dreams where you’re yelling at your boss? Have you started updating your CV? Or created endless spreadsheets mapping out cash-flows for your start-up? Have you been brainstorming company names with your friends?
If you’ve found yourself doing any of the above recently, you may have hit the 30-Something Ceiling.
We’ve all heard of the glass ceiling, the 7-year itch, buyer’s remorse, and a whole lot of other terms explaining regret and impatience. However, I think I’m the first to coin the 30-Something Ceiling.
Hitting the Ceiling
How do I know about this? Well, I was thirty once! But more importantly, I’ve had a number of very impressive 30 somethings work for me over the years. Managing their expectations, and keeping them challenged and satisfied, has been an important part of my job.
Let’s look at the (very generic and fabricated) facts about being a professional in the 30+ age bracket.
Firstly, I remember my early 30s as being some the best years of my life (so far!). The world seems to be your oyster. At that stage of your career, you more than likely have 10 years’ experience, which could involve 3 or so different jobs, you may have completed your Masters.
You are at the top of your game, you know “stuff” and are earning good money. And – from all reports – you have been doing a great job.
You have the wind at your back. So why do your boss and HR just seem to be blowing hot air? You’re asking yourself:
- Why aren’t they giving you more responsibility?
- Why are they making these crazy decisions?
- Why don’t they get you involved?
My theory on why the 30-Something Ceiling exists? Why do professionals at this critical stage of their career experience high levels of frustration?
Because you’re like Ferrari Testarossa that has to observe the 15 mph speed limit in the retirement village you’ve been housed in. You have the speed, the power and the looks to win the race, but everyone around you is yelling “slow down, take it easy”.
Getting ‘In the Loop’
The real frustration occurs because you are just one reporting line out of “the loop” – the information expressway in organisations where all the real information is being shared.
You might think your boss and those above you are incompetent, because you don’t have any frame of reference for why and how the decisions are being made.
And, of course, your boss doesn’t understand your frustration or confusion, because they are in the loop. Your boss understands the context. But they can’t share it because they have to toe the company line.
In addition to the frustration of being outside the corporate information flow, you also feel like your abilities are not recognised. Companies are notoriously bad at recognising talent in a way that employees value. An email of thanks, extra training, promotion, money, fame – anything would help – but instead there is silence.
Yet they are very quick to appoint outsiders on more money, with more seniority, only to discover that you (the incumbent) are actually much better!
Surviving the Ride
I know you’re frustrated, but long ago I settled on the theory that one of the biggest requirements for getting promoted in business was actually just being there.
That’s right – tenacity, tenure, endurance. So, if you want to get to the top, you need to find strategies to survive the ride.
You might want to throw in the towel, and go to another company or your dream start up, but remember, the grass isn’t always greener.
So before you submit your CV to a new employer, or your business plan to the bank, you need to heed some words of warning.
Remember when you leave a company you are leaving all the value of the internal networks and personal brand equity you have built within that organisation.
This is one of the reasons I started my own company – the thought of building my corporate reputation from ground zero again was quite daunting. (Mind you, I was extremely naïve. Believe me, building your start-up’s reputation from ground zero is even more intimidating!)
Breaking Through the Ceiling
I’m going to encourage you to stay with your big corporate career job and suggest what you need to do:
- Acknowledge – recognise that you have hit the 30 something ceiling
- Explain – highlight your frustration to your boss and ask if you could be given a little more context on why decisions are being made.
- Build – Get yourself on high profile, corporate projects in addition to your day job. This will allow you to use up all that brain power and speed so you’re less frustrated. This has the added benefit of you gaining more recognition throughout the company.
- Develop – Ask your boss (and/or HR) to be transparent about your professional development plan. What are the roles they think you could be targeting, and when?
- Network – Keep building your network. This will help you learn, get promoted, and share your frustrations with others in the same situation.
- Dream – Keep dreaming about other jobs and your own start-up. Write plans and keep them in the bottom drawer as insurance!
If you feel like I’m trying to encourage you to stay where you are and make it work, you’re right. But just in case, you may like to read my article about quitting your job in style.
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