When you stop trying to climb (or claw) your way to the top of a social hierarchy, you’re able to develop your authentic self and full potential. I should know – I spent almost a decade trying to achieve high status as a jazz musician, then scholar. Once I decided to forge my own path, I became much happier.
What Does Climbing the Status Ladder Look Like?
To climb the status ladder means working toward acquiring more money, power, comforts, possessions, popularity, attractiveness, talent, knowledge, etc. – for the express purpose of occupying a higher social position than others. There are many different types of status ladders in various fields, but they share some common traits: First, a tendency to financially exploit people at the bottom of the ladder (“The gig doesn’t pay, but it’ll be great exposure”); second, a tendency to exclude people from the upper rungs based on gender, race, sexuality, class, etc. (“Women just don’t have what it takes to succeed in this business”); and finally, a tendency to be used to justify the status quo (“You failed because you were just too lazy/stupid/naive”).
What Does Getting Off the Status Ladder Look Like?
For me, getting off the status ladder took three forms. First, when I was a child, I was taken out of school and given the opportunity to do structured, but mostly self-directed learning. Over time, I’ve come to realize just how much formal schooling relies on and promotes social hierarchies. Second, as a musician, I gradually shifted from trying to win at competitions to trying to promote collaboration and cooperation. This was no small task after attending a music school with very explicit ensemble hierarchies by which people lived and died… Finally, I opted out of academia, which for all of its critique of social inequality is still one big status ladder (with tenure being the top rung). As a freelancer, I’m putting the skills I learned in academia to work, just in my own way, without worrying about how they compare to others.
What Does Letting Your Real Journey Begin Look Like?
Once you’ve decided to get off the status ladder, there’s still a great deal of work to be done. If you’re no longer worried about being a “master” in one area, you have to decide how to balance your different interests and “selves.” Although you’re no longer trying to acquire as much wealth, possessions, and/or social capital as possible, you still need to worry about having “just enough” money and material comforts (and, ideally, “more than you think you’ll need” of savings). You also need to create your own forms of love, meaning, and acceptance in your life – because these are the fundamental drives that drive us to climb the status ladder. Ultimately, though, they’ll lead us to our true path if we let them.
Have you struggled with climbing one or more “status ladders”? If so, what did it take to stop climbing and start finding your own way?