The Corporate Ladder: Climbing Versus Building



Years ago I realized, in passing, that when people talked about “the corporate ladder”, or “glass ceilings” (in reference to women in business) they were discussing metaphorical obstacles I would never be able to overcome.

I didn’t have the patience to work for others, even in my “corporate” days (when I slaved away in a variety of bartending positions) I had a short fuse for authority figures that didn’t live up to my expectations of upper management (I wanted to be employed by the Howard Roark of bars).

I also realized that gulping the b.s. women at times have to face in the corporate world, especially when scaling the upper rungs, would be intolerable. So I resigned myself to blogging, writing and trying more creative paths to freedom and success—then, I found entrepreneurship. 

My saving grace. No matter how many times people say “Geez, it must be so hard to build a company” I can only think—as compared to what? Starting Zirtual has been, hands down, the most challenging period of my life. But it’s also been the most fulfilling. It’s certainly not as hard as spending 25 years at a job you can be fired from, or being foiled at every turn by incompetent upper management. It’s like comparing the pain of death by one thousand rusty nails to the pain one feels when working out.

My generation has to thank the generation before, and the generation before them, for this opportunity—we’ve been enlightened, more or less, by observing the job woes of our parent’s generation and the near-caste like structure of our grandparent’s work lives.

So if you’re unhappy with your current employment situation, hop off the ladder and build your own. You will start with a one-runged contraption and can gradually build something as high as you want. Great part is when you build your own ladder, you can choose to simply forego installing glass ceilings—so it’s pretty much as high as you wish to fly.

How hard is building your own ladder. Very hard. But, hopping off the comfort of your current ladder is possibly harder. Not everyone is cut out for it, but some people are… and those people get to enjoy lives of delicious freedom prepared by years of salaciously hard work.

The question you must ask is: what is freedom worth to you?

2 years? 5 years? 10 years of hard, hard work… to me that’s a walk in the park, compared to the alternative.

  • Justin F Harris

    Best Read I have had in awhile. So true, its hard work but something that with great sacrifice comes great rewards.

  • Stanley Lee

    At least if you’re pissed off about your own company’s ladder, you can admit it’s your own fault b/c you’re the one who built it. 😉

  • Core

    I like this blog post. I think it brought up several valid points about ‘minding another’s business and what it does to you, and what minding your own business can do for you’

  • Jeff Bronson

    “I can only think—as compared to what?”

    This is a great, standard response I use in everyday life, works well.

    I agree the hardest part is making that initial jump.

    I do think it’s worth building your new income stream while you still have traditional job income coming in, to greatly increase your chances of survival. That’s the route I’ve been working on for many years. It will feel better to “break free” with zero debt , years of savings and solid income streams, than rashly quitting one day with the hope of “making things work” in a few months.

  • Dave

    Thanks for the inspiration. You have the same mindset as many. The difference is you’re doing something about it.


    Its been a while since I popped in to check out the latest thoughts shared by Maid Maren. Although this post was published near on a month ago its ironic that I ‘stumble’ across its presence having resigned from my ‘8’ to 5 (again) to resume building my own ladder.

    Walking away was the easy part. Sure there’s self imposed financial commitments to honour, due to our choices to live in our chosen social environment. But if we allow this to be our stumbling block or glass ceiling, then we self impose the same restrictions our governing employers oppress upon us daily.

    Don’t delay, start today – what do you have to loose? Your mundane, restrictive lifestyle?

    See you on the other side… Nivek

  • Avery Ashburn

    The near-caste like structure of our grandparent’s work lives.

  • Minka Ross

    I also realized that gulping the b.s. women at times have to face in
    the corporate world, especially when scaling the upper rungs, would be
    intolerable. So I resigned myself to blogging, writing and trying more
    creative paths to freedom and success—then, I found entrepreneurship.

  • Zedara

    I’d rather be a builder than a climber. Great post :)

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  • Hector Avellaneda

    Hi Maren, very insightful post. I think I have been to your blog before but I think this is going to be the first time that I actually leave a comment. I really like the overall message of your blog so I definitely expect to come back more often and read some of your stuff.

    Anyway, great post. It caught my attention because this is a topic that I write about in my recently released book De-Class-ified: Fall of the middle class and rise of the internet entrepreneur. I describe it more as ‘Climbing the Corporate Slide’ because I dont even think its a ladder anymore, especially for those graduating from college within the next decade.

    All of the concerns you had with climbing the corporate ladder were justified, and I talk more about this in my book, but an even bigger issue now that will become even more prevalent in the coming years is this increase in college grads obtaining jobs as ‘contingent’ workers, in other words -contractors.

    Not sure how much you know about this but basically, big corporations have huge incentives to stop hiring as many employees and start hiring more contingent workers, it basically boils down to money savings.

    If a worker is contingent, not only is that worker already earning less than his ’employee’ counterparts, but the employer does not have to pay him for sick time off, personal time off, vacation, maternity leave, etc. Additionally, that employer does not have to offer the contingent worker retirement benefits, medical insurance or other company benefits like stock options or stock buy plans, etc. Finally, the employer also saves money through the corporate payroll tax by not having that employee directly on their books.

    This trend is going to continue and is going to get worse.. much much worse int he coming years. The end results will be a college graduate population that is underpaid, over overworked and over taxed.

    You made an excellent move by becoming an entrepreneur and going against the herd. That’s what I am working on and I hope to be joining your ranks very soon!

  • Stefano Tresca

    Zirtual rises 2 millions !!!!

    Hi Maren, I am on skype with Adeo and he just drop the link. Congratulation girl, you did it :)