American Ladder

A couple months ago I wrote about what motivates us as leaders. I wrote about how I ask managers why they work, was surprised how often money was the answer, and how I feel that money is a bad motivator. You can read it here. A very influential person in my life challenged my position, we still disagree. Last week, I was talking about the money motivation factor with a friend who also disagrees with me and it got me thinking as to why I feel the way I do.

When I was in my early twenties, I attended a church service that forever influenced my view on why I work. The reason for the service was to bring attention to a very poor village in a Southern Africa. Our church had decided to sponsor the village, the plan was to get the congregation to help. The plan of course worked.

Our Pastor, Joe, brought out a ladder and set it up on stage. It was at least ten feet tall. Each rung on the ladder portrayed an annual income. The bottom rung represented the people of the village. The next rung up represented most of humanity. Turns out over three billion people live off about a dollar a day. I’ll do the math for you, that’s about 365 dollars a year. Then he climbed up about seven steps and said this represents the average yearly income of our community.

Standing seven feet off the ground, this was a powerful visual. I am sad to admit that for me, this fell on deaf ears. I couldn’t wrap my head around that level of poverty. Joe talked about how in America we should all be grateful. Just living here, we have it better than half the world.

A dollar a day? It would take half a year to pay my car insurance back then. To me, we were talking apples and bowling balls. Still standing on that ladder he stepped up again and spoke how that represented a higher income, and as the ladder increased in height so did the income. As Americans, we are always climbing. Here is the conclusion I came to:

With money as your motivator, the ladder never ends. When was the last time you climbed a ladder? Did you look down when you were climbing? We say things like “climb the corporate ladder” and “to move up in our career”, the common theme is to ascend.

Have you ever been in line at a drive thru and seen one of those ladders that lead up to the roof? It doesn’t start until halfway up the building, I like to call them Millennial Ladders. Our culture has changed, a lot of us think we are entitled to start half way up the ladder. Globally I suppose we do, maybe I should call them American Ladders.

I am not saying we shouldn’t try to grow our careers. Anyone that knows me, knows how hard I work to improve myself and propel my career. It is important to have pride in what we do, to lead and help others, and most important, to provide for our family.

For me the key to defining your success is to understand and grow what is motivating you. If the only reason you want to climb the ladder is to attain more money, you will never be satisfied. How can you be? There is no top, there is no amount to quench your thirst, no rung high enough.

For me personally, I am motived by Colossians 3:23. It talks of how you work for the glory of God, not for man. In a simpler sense, I just try to do the right thing. I think many of us have this same motivator, however you want to color it.  When I am confronted with a problem, I just do what I think is the right thing to do at that time. Sometimes I am wrong, sometimes I am selfish and take the easy way out. I try to make a conscious effort daily to be selfless and I can tell you, I have been blessed because of it.

We all aspire, so ask yourself what each rung represents on your ladder. Where does your ladder start? Where does your ladder lead? It is crucial to understand why we are taking these steps. It could be as simple as your next meal or as bold as becoming the CEO/Owner of your company. For most of us, dollar signs come with our met goals. That is not only ok, it is healthy.

As you are climbing, it is vital to remember to look down, recognize the people below you and next to you. We are all in this together, after all, not everyone is lucky enough to start on an American Ladder.