career advice

How do you measure status? Is it by the work you do, or your job title? How much money you earn, where you live or perhaps the car you drive? Where you go on holiday or where your children go to school? However we define it, the underlying motivation is an intrinsic need we are trying to satisfy.

Status has a deep impact on our quality of life. Neuroscience studies show the reward circuits in our brain are activated when people see others worse off than they are. Our brain maintains complex maps for the ‘pecking order’ of the people surrounding you. And any change to the pecking order triggers changes in our neuron circuitry. Have you ever been in a situation when a colleague or a friend suddenly starts earning more than you? This shift in perceived status can bring challenges. People go to tremendous extremes to boost or protect their status.

This month, my case study is myself. I first arrived in the UK in 1991, having transferred with my company from Down Under. I felt important, with my ‘hey look at me’ shoulder pads and briefcase at the ready. Status, big tick over my antipodean peers! However, I had taken a step down to come to the UK. Back home I had been sales manager and now I was a lowly account exec. I used this perceived drop in status to leverage my drive and motivation to succeed. I had the highest call-rate, and would arrive early and work late. But despite my results I just couldn’t bag that promotion. Several times I applied for manager jobs with rivals and three times I resigned only to have my boss talk me into staying. Eventually I won, landing a job with the title ’sales director’… not just manager, nor just UK, but director - with European responsibilities. New status, big tick! I even sent my old boss my business card to highlight my new title. Looking back, I cringe with embarrassment.

Eventually I learnt success and status defined by material things was a short-lived fulfilment. I wanted more, and the drive for bigger status was stressful and exhausting. I wasn’t enjoying my new-found status. I came to realise that to fulfil my need from within gave me a stronger and more reliable foundation, not from what I perceived others thought but from my own self-worth and real contribution to others.

Jennifer Baker is a professionally trained executive coach with a strategic business background

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