In 1996, my corporate career took a radical turn for the better.

I was a middle manager at a small startup, but the clanging gong of riches and fame was calling me. Specifically, it was a corporate job across town.

I've told the story a few times now, but here is the basic summary: My small team grew to a large team which became an entire department. I rode on an escalator of success, barely aware of how quickly I was rising through the ranks. My performance reviews, right up until the last two years or so, consisted of a brief chat and a nice 20% raise.

These days, I hear about the escalator of success from corporate friends, but mostly in whispers and murmurs. It's almost like they don't want to talk about the topic. The truth is, the idea of joining a company at the lower ranks and then quickly riding up to a lofty position is becoming nothing more than a pipe dream. People don't stick around long enough. If there's an escalator that takes you from college grad to the boardroom over a 10 or 20 year career, it has been running in a back department closet. It's running on fumes.

Why is that? Isn't there a corporate career that can last for more than a few years? Are the pressures in most large companies so great that no one can withstand the layoffs, the mergers, the meritocracy, and the departmental tension? At one time, you could join "the firm" and stick around for your whole life. In my corporate days, it wasn't necessarily a guaranteed paycheck but at least it lasted a decade (in my case).

Today, there is an incredible anxiety about job performance and holding onto a career. I know of at least three relatives who are on the chopping block. One has been in fear of a layoff for two years, another is actively looking for work and is expecting a pink slip.

Last month, when I wrote about knowing whether you are in the wrong profession, 30 people sent me their story within a few hours. Most were anxious about their future. There doesn't seem to be the same level of job security as there was just a few years ago. I don't advise anyone to look at the unemployment trends in the U.S., it looks like a ski slope. Worse than that, even the job you do have today might not take you any higher.

What works instead? Entrepreneurship.

Last year, Bentley University surveyed young adults and found that two out of three want to start their own business. A similar Kauffman study found that 55% of millennials want to go into business for themselves. The reason? They are not content to wait out their corporate jobs and see if things pan out eventually. They want to do it on their own.

I believe this is why it is more important than ever to have a career mindset, to know your skills and personality traits, and to have a long-term goal. If you are going to be an entrepreneur and do it all yourself, you will need to have a good grasp of what you want to do. This is even more important for millennials because they have a longer career ahead of them. They will deal with more pitfalls, more challenges, and more job fluctuations. Hold on for the ride, right? For me, the escalator only went so far, then it stopped. In 2001, I was led out of the corporate sector and found a different way to achieve success.

What about you? If you're a millennial, feel free to send me an email and ask about your career path. If you are on an escalator right now, go ahead and challenge my viewpoint. If you just started a company, you are now in control of your own destiny. Make it happen!

Published on: Apr 20, 2015