That Promotion Might Be a Step in the Wrong Direction

Sure, it’s objectively good to get more money and demonstrate progression, but what is your ultimate goal?

Sarah Smith
Forge
Published in
4 min readSep 7, 2021

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Photo: Klaus Vedfelt/Getty Images

I was once a subcontractor at … let’s call it Schmoogle. I had been there for about two years. I was, in spite of being bored to the point of catatonia, quite good at my job. At every evaluation, I got the highest performance scores. I had stayed through lots of turnover, watching many of my former colleagues leave for dream jobs. I didn’t leave because, well, novelists aren’t always so lucky to land in easy tech jobs that also feed them three squares a day. Many of my friends were starving in academia while I was asking for extra pea shoots and halloumi at the Schmoogle salad bar (which was nothing next to the beignets on Fat Tuesday or the composed fennel salads … but I obviously digress).

After yet another farewell happy hour full of awkward office jokes which withered in the light of the outside world, I was made aware that a new team trainer position was about to open up. You should totally apply, they said. In fact, at that point, I was nearly the most senior taxonomist. I had, in fact, already trained many of my co-workers. It didn’t seem like the work would be too much of a stretch. And besides, one of the other team trainers told me, it looked better on a resume if you moved up into a leadership position after two years.

So I pursued the position — out of curiosity as much as anything else. I interviewed, addressed hypothetical personnel situations, made sample trainings, etc. These things were easy to do, and I’ve always been good at addressing a conference room in that smart yet slightly informal cadence that is the preferred communication style at Schmoogle. A few weeks into the process, one of the interviewers said to me, “We aren’t going to make the formal offer yet, but this job is yours if you want it.”

My stomach dropped. Weren’t you supposed to be happy if you were offered a promotion? I felt a wave of dread sweat. What was wrong with me?

Well, nothing. I didn’t understand it at the time, but I was spooked because that achievement wasn’t for me. Sure, it’s objectively good to get more money and be seen as a leader. It’s objectively good to…

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Sarah Smith
Forge
Writer for

Novelist. Tarotist, poet, lazy Virgo. Nothing is real; magic is real. Writing is a way to see in the dark. sarahelainesmith.com, @braindoggies