That Time I Turned Down a Promotion

Yes, I did that thing that at one time I understood should NEVER be done if I wanted to be successful. When given the opportunity to take a step up the Corporate ladder, I said no. And I’m here to tell you it was one of the best decisions of my life. Since, I’ve enjoyed a level of success and career opportunity like I could have never imagined.

Struggling with a similar decision? In utter disbelief of what you just read? Think you’re smelling BS? Allow me to share my story…

Early in my career I made a lateral move to a new business unit within my company. The move was an incredibly exciting one because it relocated me back home with family. I had been living away from home for nearly seven years, in colder climates mind you, and was ready to get back to the surroundings that resonated most with that ‘home’ feeling in my heart. Throughout my short tenure, I had been viewed as top talent and put in assignments that fostered growth and enabled ‘fast track’ career progression. But this lateral move was one I requested in order to get back to family. During the transition I was told a few times by mentors that the move could slow my progression given it was a little off the ‘groomed’ path.

Now, let me take the opportunity to tell you I am a highly ambitious person. I loved being on the fast track and was enjoying the advancements, pay scale, and high-level visibility and responsibility of my roles. So, though I was elated to get back home, this feedback of a potential slow in my career trajectory was a bit of a bummer. Nonetheless, I pursued relocation.

After a little less than a year of being in the new role, really feeling good about the strength of my contributions, I got a call. I still remember it to this day. It was a mid-Thursday afternoon and the person on the other end of the line was my Director, now Chief Technology Officer (CTO) of the company. I was excited to be hearing from him directly and assumed it would be a brief check-in on progress and an opportunity to express any help needed. But no. About 10 minutes into the conversation, there she was: Promotion. Once again strolling into my career as she had done a couple years prior. To be honest, I was caught off guard. The timing of this advancement opportunity was on pace with what some of the executive leaders of the company had achieved. On top of that, I was fully expecting a stagnation in my career progression with the recent role change. The advancement would mean Global responsibility, higher strategic focus, and solid footing into middle management of a multi-billion dollar business at very young age. To put it bluntly, this was a BIG deal.

But following Promotion, with her diamond shoes and Prada bag, would mean relocation back to the northern portion of the country and once again living away from family. So as the idea of advancement was racing through my mind, reaching that realization was when my heart hit a brick wall. In that moment, I so hoped that Prada bag hanging off Promotion’s shoulder was a cheap, Chinatown knock-off. But it wasn’t. It was the real deal. And I could feel her smirking at me for daring to doubt it. Sitting there holding my cell, I took a breath and asked if I could take the weekend to consider the offer. He ofcourse obliged. And what a weekend it was.

I quickly began listing the pros and cons. Though the list was multiple pages long it yielded no clear direction one way or the other. Struggling to make a decision, I called friends, family, colleagues, and mentors seeking guidance. Some of those calls were more…colorful than others. “Are you an idiot?! You better take that promotion!! You can get on a plane anytime to see family!” The truth was, I really wanted the promotion. I wanted the expanded responsibilities, influence, and paycheck. But, I didn’t want to leave family again. I had JUST moved back home. After two days of perpetual internal struggle, I called my brother.

I talked him through all the internal debate I had been having the past couple days. Then after going through it all I reached a point of mental exhaustion and paused long enough for him to ask me a very blunt question: Do you want to move and take this job? I can only assume my exhaustion had cleared my mental space, because in that moment I heard the question and as clear as day a definitive answer popped in my mind’s eye: No. I didn’t want to move. And right then and there I decided I wasn’t going to. Not even for Promotion. Finally, I was free.

That last day of the weekend was spent preparing the message so as not to burn bridges nor position myself as being so rigid as to never being open to relocation. And ofcourse express my genuine gratitude for the support and opportunity. My Director was disappointed but understanding. He also reminded me of limited opportunity for advancement remaining in my location given where I wanted to progress in my career. Despite his words, I was fully at peace with the decision.

The next two years were some of the most fulfilling of my professional and personal life. I grew closer than ever to my family. I remained challenged and fascinated by the innovation I was delivering. Then as I was in full stride and pure bliss, there she was again. Promotion came and sat next to me one morning and this time that Prada bag was a suitcase. She had packed a bag and moved to me. They created a role for my advancement in location, doing the exact work for which I was so passionate.

So what did I learn through all this? It’s simple really. Remaining true to me will always and forever ensure my success. And it’s OK if my success looks different than yours, or that CEO over there, or that billionaire over here. My success feels better to me than anyone else’s success ever could. And I’m so grateful to know that today.

About Cassandra

Cassandra Worthy inspires world-class business leaders to thrive in today’s dynamic workplace through sharing her own stories of tragedy and triumph.


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