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  • Writer's pictureKay Gravesande

Not Everyone is a Born Leader

When I left my role in 2015, one of the people I knew I would miss most was a man named Rick [okay his name isn't Rick, but I'm protecting his privacy]. Rick was the mail room attendant for the building, and he had held his position since he was 20 years old. In 2015, Rick celebrated his 47th service anniversary. For 47 years, he was the mail clerk, with the same company, and he knew everything about that role. From the price of a stamp, to the many different sizes of an envelope and what time our postman came - he was the guy. He watched the organization grow, numerous people come and go - including me - and he was by far the most friendly employee in the building.

It baffled me that someone could hold the same job for 47 years. Never once had he been given a promotion, nor had he asked for one. How could he not want more from his employer or feel angry they weren't invested in him? In 47 years, didn't he look at this manager with disgust as they increased his pay by mere pennies (you can't have a mail clerk making $80k). Isn't part of the American Dream climbing the corporate ladder?


It took me years to realize not everyone has the same career goals. Rick taught me the value in Happiness. Just as he had his stable job, his wife was a school teacher for 40 years. They lived in a cute cottage style home and raised two children. They built a quiet, peaceful life and had no need to over complicate things. They were happy with stability and routine.

But our society has glorified the "CEO" status, making it seem like if you aren't at the top, you're a failure. We are literally spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on college degrees and certificates to prove we're educated enough to be worthy for the top - and consequently fall into depression when we don't reach it in time. Because not only do we have this desire to be head honcho, we have an obscene time frame in which we must accomplish this goal. Log onto Instagram, and you'll soon feel like if you aren't a CEO or millionaire entrepreneur with a beach house and Audi Q5 by age 30, you might as well be homeless shaking an empty bean can for change.

Happiness is unfortunately a lost requirement in our career market. When I ask my clients "what are you looking for in your next role?" they say flexibility, great benefits, and company culture. These are good attributes to look for in any company, however we need to get back to placing value on our Happiness. I know it seems like forever ago considering everything that happened this year, but Kobe's death taught us life is fragile. He literally had it all: a vibrant family, fruitful career, money and health - yet his life and his child's life were ripped away in an instant. That was a direct message for all of us to reevaluate our values and where we spend our time.

The next time you are thinking about what you want your organization to value in its employees, I urge you to say Happiness, and whatever that means for each person. For me, happiness is being able to create my own schedule and balance work with family time. It's being able to rest when I'm tired and not feel ashamed when I make a mistake. It's feeling like my company sees me as a black professional and cares about the advancement in my career. Only you can determine what Happiness is, and it will likely look very different from your colleagues.

If leadership is not entangled with your Happiness, leave it at the corner. As you climb higher, you dive deeper into bureaucracy and politics within your company. There are more meetings and questions to answer for your team. You may be privy to information that you do not control, which is why a good leader must be comfortable letting go of responsibility, but keeping relationships open. Above all else, leaders must stand by their team - you cannot sell out your frontline employees; instead, you take the bullets as their protector and if that means your job is eliminated because the team wasn't performing overall, so be it.

Let's face it, we can't all be leaders... kinda like the saying, "too many chiefs". When you sit back and examine your qualities, you may begin to notice you don't like public speaking, you aren't great at multi-tasking, persuasion or have the ability to make quick decisions. All of these skills are necessary in leadership, so this may not be in your wheelhouse, and if you determine it isn't your destined path, the good news is you have a chance to unlock real freedom. Perhaps you are more of a mid-level professional, like "Manager" or "Team Lead". In these positions, you still have direct reports, but you function as more of a liaison between lower level and upper management. Maybe you like it super simple and just want to do your work and go home - that's the mentality of an individual contributor like a Customer Service Rep, Mechanic or Teacher. There's nothing wrong with someone who's comfortable on this level. You do your work well, find peace with your predictable schedule and managing the duties in what you can control.

Moving forward, try not to judge others if their career path to Happiness looks different than yours. Some may be natural born leaders on their journey to C-Suite, while others are chillin' poolside happy as can be in their mid-level positions until retirement. Whatever path you choose, trust the process and know that it is the right one.

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