Full disclosure I am an only child. That said, I'm reasonably sure that no one wants to be the middle child (insert joke about my last name here). The older kids get to stay out late and boss you around, the younger kids get away with murder, all the while you are left to figure things out for yourself.
But this isn't simply a reality for those that have siblings, it's a situation faced by those of us who have reached the mid-point of our careers.
Ok. Strap yourself in. I'm about to make a "companies are like families" comparison.
No, I don't mean that executives, managers and colleagues care for each other in the way that parents care for sons and daughters, but there is one way in which a company is just like a family; how it views and treats its talent.
At the risk of sounding paternalistic (and kind of creepy), every organization has its version of eldest, youngest, and middle children.
The eldest child
In an organization the senior employees are the elder children. These folks run the show. They've been around the longest, hold key managerial and executive roles, and generally enjoy the benefits of seniority and status.
The youngest child
These are the new recruits. They were prospected, recruited and signed like top-flight athletes. When Whitney Houston sang corporate gigs these were the "children" she was talking about. And just like the baby of the family they get all the attention, or in this case, professional development.
The middle child
The middle children of an organization are the mid-career folks. A small number of this group will go on to senior leadership, more will remain in middle management and most will pursue opportunities elsewhere. It's tough being in the middle, you have options, but lack clarity on which is the "right" one for you.
Here are the three signs that you might be the company middle child:
- You have enough experience to know what you like and dislike, what you're good at, what needs work and what you'd like to avoid altogether.
- You're not yet senior enough to feel the steely-sweet grip of golden handcuffs and thus aren't shackled to this or that company. And
- Though you're further along than your more junior colleagues you still have the prime years of your career ahead of you.
Most of all, whether you are conscious of it or not, you have developed a clear sense of what you value, what invigorates and enlivens you, and the contribution you wish to make to the world.
It can be tough as a middle child. There is none of the authority enjoyed by your elder siblings and far less attention or optimism than is showered on your younger siblings. It is no wonder that being in this position causes us to reflect on the status of our journey and seriously consider whether the path we're walking is the right one for us! But though this may seem like the least advantageous spot in the talent pipeline, it is actually the most freeing, exciting, and full of opportunity.
So rejoice my fellow "middle children," the road before you may be forked, but down these paths lay fresh opportunity: promotion to senior leadership, a new career, or maybe your own start-up venture. Most important of all, what lies ahead -- if only you perceive it to be possible -- are dreams, realized.
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