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6 Career Lessons Learned From Climbing Trees

Office Hours |

Career history tells the tale of climbing the corporate ladder: Each rung is another step closer to being the One in Charge. But Christina Vuleta, founder of the intergenerational mentoring resource 40:20 vision, insists that your career path is more like climbing a tree: You can swing from branch to branch as you make your way to the summit while the tree grows and expands.

Levo spoke with Vuleta during yesterday’s Office Hours, where she shared with us the six most important lessons she learned from “climbing trees.”

1. Explore different branches.

In your twenties it’s all about growing, nurturing, and expanding. Vuleta says you shouldn’t be afraid to quit, because the best time to quit is actually when you’re doing well and gaining respect in your company and your field. Vuleta says she often talks about how to deal with the decision of whether to stay in the security of what you know, or to take a risk.
But ultimately, the branch you know isn’t better than the branch you don’t know, so take the risk, and don’t let fear stand in your way.

2. It’s okay to move to a lower branch.

Vuleta briefly pursued a marketing director job in California before coming back to New York, but when she returned, aiming for her dream job, she had to start at a lower position than she’d just been in. But in her case—as is in the case of many others climbing the tree—climbing down a bit now is worth it if it gets you up to where you want to go in the future. Lateral or even downward moves shouldn’t be discounted because they’re not upward moves; they can actually help your career.

3. Look for where there’s growth.

You can’t stay on one branch forever, so when it’s time to move, go toward what energizes you. Even Sheryl Sandberg had the same thing to say: Go for the opportunity that has the most available growth. Vuleta says a mentor of hers told her to follow the principle of “shackles on, shackles off.” Shackles on is when something is an energy-drainer; shackles off is a feeling of weightlessness in that it gives you energy. Throughout your career you should take inventory of the shackles on and shackles off opportunities in order to discover your passion. Most people don’t know what their passions are offhand, but try to find the intersection between your interests and your strengths, and then find the opportunities where you can combine them.

4. Take a step back. See if you missed any branches.

If a job becomes too comfortable, find an outside passion or find a new job that you’re passionate about, says Vuleta. Vuleta was at a place in her life where she needed to decide what her next career move would be, so she created a brief—a useful tool that guided the move to her next branch. Create a brief for yourself listing what you’re looking for in your next job. Is it more experience? A jumping-off point for better projects, better opportunities? When deciding between two career moves, ask yourself which offers you the most opportunity for intellectual growth and which one offers you the most credibility. If you have to take a job that doesn’t necessarily align with your passion, establishing credibility in that job could get you to your passion a few years down the line, and that’s something that’s truly valuable.

5. You can always go back to a previous branch.

Even if you’re only on a branch for a little while, Vuleta says to be strategic on that branch. Even if you don’t love the branch you’re on, it might serve a future move by helping you build those skills and connections you need. What you do now, she points out, has no bearing on what you do, or what you can do, in the future.

6. Do some trimming and fertilizing.

As your tree grows, and with each jumping-off point, make sure to think of your trajectory in terms of value in and value out: What will you get? What will you add to your portfolio of experience (value in)? What will you bring to the company and provide them (value out)? This is the idea of reciprocity. It’s important not just to tend to the branches, but to care for and nurture the trunk as well.

A final thought Vuleta gives us: If everyone were climbing the same branches, the branches would break. Go your own way, and don’t be afraid to be out on your own branch.

Get more incredible advice from Christina Vuleta by watching her Office Hours below:

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I love this way of looking at your career path. Vuleta makes some great points, I particularly liked step 4 where she talks about taking a step back and seeing if you missed any branches and remembering to keep passion in your life!


I love her second piece of advice - "It's okay to move to a lower branch." We so often forget that! We're told to climb higher and higher and never look down or never look back. But Vuleta reminds us about the importance of sometimes taking a step down and how it can actually benefit your career. Yes, you may be taking a pay cut, but it's not forever. And yes, you may be at a company that's a longer commute, but one that keeps you saner. Thanks for the reminder!


I think we have the "career ladder" so ingrained in our minds that we feel as though failure occurs when we are not on that single path.

Melissa Stanger

Melissa Stanger is the Associate Editor at Levo League. She has written for Business Insider, Verizon, Faster Times Media, Your Coffee Break, AmEx Open Forum, and Honey & Nonno. She is a graduate of Sarah Lawrence College who loves impeccable grammar and is on a noble quest for the best chai latte in New York. Follow her on Twitter @melissahstanger, or on her blog