You need to stop thinking of your career as a ladder. Instead, think of it as a jungle gym.

“So, what do you do?”

Don’t ask me. GOD. PLEASE don’t ask me. Because the answer isn’t simple. And ain’t nobody got time for my Linkedin profile.

I mean, I know what I do right now. I write and I make podcasts.  I guess on my resume, if I was a wanker, it would say “Content maker in digital media”. (Actually I’m pretty sure it does say that. #Wanker.)

Monique Bowley — “Content maker in digital media”.

But how did I get here? Through a series of strange and curious events is how.  It’s a long story with a short message:

The idea that you will climb the ladder to career success is over. The ladder is broken. Actually, there IS NO LADDER anymore.

In fact, these days your career path will look more like a jungle gym.

I won’t bore you with the intricate details of my career but here’s the rub.

In the last few years I’ve worked in countless jobs. You see, I went on a reality TV show and when I came back from filming, I had no job. So instead of getting on Centrelink, I did some things I’ve always wanted to do. I renovated a travelling bus that now sells vintage clothing and raises money for homeless people. I rang the Women’s Weekly and did some work experience in their test kitchen. I rolled out a caravan that I’d been renovating and sold lemonade out of it. I renovated and shucked oysters until my hands bled.

Life advice is free in the little van. via instagram @moniquebowley

And the whole time, I pretended it was awesome.

Because the reality was, it wasn’t.  I had a University degree full of distinctions and a decade of media experience and I used to play National League Basketball and once even played for Australia but still, there I was, selling lemonade and taking all my five cent pieces to the petrol station to put $5 of petty in my car.  ‘Cos I couldn’t get a job anywhere.


That’s life.

And I thought – well, if I can’t get the job I want, I’ll just keep moving and something will appear. And eventually it did.

That’s the thing about careers these days. There is no direct route to your dream job. Today, when you walk in the door of a company, if you even GET that far, there’s really no step-by-step formula or well-worn path to your leadership aspirations. Everything has changed faster than we’ve been able to adapt.

According to Sheryl Sandberg, CEO of Facebook, we have to forget the upward climb to management. That’s for suckers and it doesn’t exist anymore. The idea is to embrace a career jungle gym that will make you move you down a step, across, up a step and then shimmy you across the rope bridge.

She says in her book Lean In that it’s her career is best described as a “jungle gym scramble”. And that the most successful people tend to look at it the same way.

According to Sheryl Sandberg, CEO of Facebook, we have to forget the upward climb to management.

But she’s an interesting case study. Trained as an economist, she was a top dog in the White House before she arrived in Silicon Valley with no job and practically no tech experience.  She spent nearly a year looking for employment and took her chances working for startups, one of which was the very early days of a relatively unknown company called “Google”.


“Google”  offered her a job and she was all like “meh, it’s a step down for me”.

But the CEO Eric Schmidt said to her “‘If you’re offered a seat on a rocket ship, you don’t ask what seat. You just get on’.”

So she got on the rocket-ship-jungle-gym and said suddenly, she realised the value in taking a step down, or sideways.   Suddenly you’re not wrapped up in job titles or carving out a management path, but your brain is firing on new challenges and developing new skills.

Once you start to accept that it’s not always going to be a vertical climb into the clouds, you start to see other opportunities.

You might not be earning the money you want, but you’ll be adding value to your skill set that you can then take into your NEXT job.  Like a cat with nine lives, you’re a human with seven careers to do. Sharpen those claws.

Did she chip a tooth? Probs. Did she break her arm on the monkey bars? Maybe. Did I? Yep. On my career playground I’ve climbed to the top of the rope bridge, AND I’ve slid down the slippery dip into months of no income and a mortgage to pay. (Not that fun, Sheryl.  Not that fun).

But the point is, even though at times I was squeezing lemon juice into my eye so I could rub some money together, every job has a skill set that you can find value in. Business development skills. Presentation skills. Networking, people management, communication, problem solving.  Working with a bunch of dickheads? Great. People management skills will get some fine tuning. Had to take a massive pay cut? Get value out of the job by upskilling yourself before your next move.


Career ladders are dead for most of us.  Moving forward is sometimes really hard to do.  So do the next best thing: just keep moving.

Losing my job meant I could do things I would never have dreamed of having the time to do.

Things that don’t just add value to my career, but add value to my life.

Like this:

So just keep moving.

Any direction will do.  Sideways? Great. It allows you to see more. Downwards? Fine. You gotta hit rock bottom to start moving up. Just. Keep. Moving. Try new things. Meet new people. Expand those skills.

Yes. Go to the park my friend. The answer lies in the grubby faced children climbing all over the play equipment. Because now, we’re supposed to consider our career as more of a jungle gym than a ladder.

I’m no Sheryl Sandberg. I’m not even the poor person’s version. But she’s got a point. If the ladder doesn’t exist, find a way to climb in other ways. Or just plank at work instead.

Planking in the mamamia playground, via instagram @moniquebowley


Want more career advice? Try these:

Four successful women on what they tell women who want to get ahead at work.

Six things your manager REALLY wants you to know.

11 excellent women who hit their stride after 30.