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Common: Recognizing there are different jobs that carry with them different responsibilities and compensation structures, but assuming that most work exemplifies the same relationship between time, skillsets, and flexibility.

Uncommon: We’ve all heard of the “climbing the corporate ladder” but that is merely one metaphor in a larger system of upward mobility… not just in the economic sense (although that is part of it), but also in the sense of lifestyle freedom and flexibility.

I’ve come to recognize 3 important tiers or stages of both personal and professional life … where compensation and personal freedom collide depending on how one develops their UVP. In other words, these tiers show the correlation between one’s time and personal assets (knowledge & personality) and their compensation … and consequently, the type of life they lead.

Below are the tiers:

Tier 1:

Being paid in exchange for time. ie: Laboring hourly in a job that does not involve highly developed skillsets or analytical thinking.

Tier 2:

Being paid in exchange for knowledge. ie: Drawing upon a personal database of specialized (and perhaps rare) information and personal experience.

Tier 3a:

Being paid to make decisions. ie: Being responsible for key decisions that ultimately lead to the well-being of the business and everyone the business serves (customers) and also those who depend on it (employees). While similar to Tier 2, this tier requires more ‘systems awareness.’ It’s been said that conventional education (the passing of knowledge) helps people recognize the dots, but only experience shows one how to connect them. Tier 3 means than knowing where the dots are, it requires one to know where the next ones will be, connecting those dots, and then understanding how they are all working together and influencing each other. This type of decision making draws upon public and private information and personal experience combined with the constitution to cope with unparalleled responsibility. Since decisions included within this tier require time and immense amounts of mental RAM, a person operating in tier 3 often has one or more team members who help implement the decisions and the many sub tasks that follow.

Tier 3b:

Being paid for who you are. For many people, this description is indicative of national or international ‘celebrity’ status. Although it can certainly infer that, celebrity fame on a massive scale is not required to operate at this tier. Yes, one may be paid due to a name or reputation they have developed (an A-List movie star asked to give a keynote speech, for instance), but this tier also applies to someone with ‘expert’ status who may not be known by the public majority. Being paid for who you are is a delicate combination of knowledge and persona. Someone may not embody the public’s definition of ‘famous’ but they still may be sought after for their relative significance in a give space. Operating at this tier often leads to work that may involve consulting, coaching, guest lecturing, guest appearances, endorsing products, appearing at events, creating art, etc.

A note about Tier 3:

The reason tier 3 has subcategories instead of each being a stand alone rung in series of 4 tiers is because both Tiers 3a and 3b infer a ‘peak’ in their relative field depending on one’s life path. In other words, one need not be a celebrity (or desire to be one) to be at the top of their own game.  There are different paths that lead to either 3a or 3b, but with the exception of those born into fame, the majority of cases require at least some time investment in both tiers 1 and 2.

Final thoughts:

Everybody has different goals and values in life so these three tiers do not imply that one should or must move UP the tiers to ‘succeed’ in life. Each tier brings with it a different set of freedoms and responsibilities. Where an individual aspires to land among these levels is completely up to them. Being aware of these tiers, however, can help one appreciate where they currently stand and/or the direction they would like to move in based on their current skillsets and their relationship with time and lifestyle flexibility (however they define it).

Stay uncommon,




Photo credit: Arne Hulstein via Flikr & Creative Commons terms. Title: “Climbing the corporate ladder at #LeWeb” This blog claims no credit for any images posted on this site unless otherwise noted. Images on this blog are copyright to its respectful owners. If there is an image appearing on this blog that belongs to you and do not wish for it appear on this site, please e-mail with a link to said image and it will be promptly removed.

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