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Career Altitude Sickness/Death

Are you familiar with the concept of "career altitude sickness/death"? This term, originating from the music and film industries, describes the phenomenon where individuals ascend the ladder of career success at an overly rapid pace only to crash. This is tied to the notion that the experience of accomplishment needs to align with a particular rate of progression, coupled with a level of emotional maturity and a balanced sense of self-awareness to ensure psychological stability. This can be seen in both the corporate and celebrity worlds. Organisational psychology tends to overlook this, even though it's connected to burnout.


The question is, why does organisational psychology ignore this phenomenon? If this is really a thing, what do we do with the speedy Gen Z?


There is no doubt about the benefits of a steady career progress. You take the time to grow into the role, technically and mentally. As you age, you mature and can handle power in a professional and grown-up way.


However, the past decade has produced a growing number of struggling young senior leaders. Are they experiencing what those young superstars experienced before going downhill?

Does corporate produce its version of Justin Bieber, Lindsey Lohan, Brittany Murphy, Amy Winehouse... and we are utterly blind to it?

If this is the case, career coaches and L&D should start talking about this asap and perhaps slow down or prepare the younger generations or those who are speeding rater fast with their careers regardless of age.


Here is the thing, I never understood the rush, and I always explained it this way to everyone who asked for my 2 cents.


You need to take an inventory of your ambitions, goals and capabilities. You consider them all and make an educated guess that the highest possible role you can reach within a corporate structure is a Director, a VP or a supervisor.


Then, you say ok, I have forty years to get there, and you build a slow and fulfilling stable career and grow with your role mature and strong.


Or, you can say, I will get there as soon as possible and stay there. You will risk burnout, then boredom and stagnation. If you want to work to finance your private life, this strategy works, but be careful, don't get altitude sickness once you reach the top.


You can also say I will build two or three careers during the next forty years because I love learning. If you are that type, a learner like me, you can go as fast or as slow as you want because you will love both. If you pick the slow, you will be the master of all three careers. You will take time to learn and enjoy the journey. If you go fast, succeed and then fall, you will love going back to the bottom because there is a massive learning mountain to climb, and you live for that.

If you are just going for the role, not knowing why or what's next, and you are doing it because the title is the main contributor to your self-esteem, you may be joining all those fallen actors and musicians.


Have you ever seen or experienced a career altitude sickness or death? Is burnout really an altitude sickness?



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