How to climb the social mobility ladder

To climb the social mobility ladder requires audacity, sacrifice, hard work, help from other people and a little luck.

social mobility ladder

In 2001 I was working on the building sites of North East England.

By 2006 I was working for the biggest and the world’s best PR agency in London.

It took me five years to climb the social mobility ladder. To go from working class to middle class.

Five years is all I needed to go from the building site to the boardroom.

The New York Times claims the UK’s social mobility ladder is broken but this is nonsense.

If you want something bad enough you can get it. The question is, do you want it bad enough?

For me, I’m never happy with my lot. I always have to be working on improving or learning something for my own sanity. If you’re comfortable in life you’re dying.

Despite being 23-years-old with no qualifications, no connections in the industry and having never even visited London, I was laser-focussed to get to the capital and make something of myself.

My intelligence is average but I’m stubborn as a mule and, as I found later, have a love of learning.

Climbing the social mobility ladder requires sacrifice

Since I had no qualifications I had to study in college for a year and university for three years. This requires sacrifice many areas.

I had to sacrifice earnings for these years. Working on the buildings sites wasn’t well-paid but it paid more than part-time jobs I had to get when in full-time education. Plus, once you graduate your salary in the first few years isn’t much either.

I made a sacrificial lamb out of my friends and social life too. If you truly want to learn and make something of yourself you have to put in the work. This comes at the expense of your social time. I lost touch with many people during this time, some of which I’ve never seen since.

Understand, climbing the social mobility ladder requires sacrifice over the course of years. Your life path had deviated from what is destined so you have to make the required sacrifices to compensate for this new direction.

You have to get out of your comfort zone

The first thing to realise when embarking on climbing the social mobility ladder is that you know nothing. Because of your lack of skills you are worth nothing to employers. You’re essentially worthless.

To become a valuable asset you have to develop your skills for the marketplace. Skill acquisition requires you to get out of your comfort zone.

I could barely read or write when I embarked on my journey so I forced myself to do both. Every day I analysed writing structures and memorised words to build up my vocabulary. I carried a dictionary around with me and when a word appeared that I didn’t know I’d look it up.

Before laptops were common I used my savings to invest in a PC so I could learn how to use a computer. At the time I didn’t know how to turn a computer on let alone use it.

I volunteered for everything at university and in my spare time, worked for PR agencies for free and offered my services for free to local businesses. I blagged my way into an award ceremony and made it my business to hobnob with all the PR agency owners.

When you’re all in on something and you have an inner drive pushing you to succeed you’ll often find yourself out of your comfort zone. This is where opportunities present themselves. Be open to them.

Pay homage to Lady Luck

I was living and studying in the north east but my goal was to get to London after I graduated.

Luckily, when I was at university was when the internet and blogging was beginning to impact the PR industry in a big way. I jumped on the bandwagon early and start blogging early on. This caught the attention of a lot of PR companies in London and I was invited down for interviews.

Could I do the same now? Hell no. The industry has moved on since then. Being technologically literate is a requirement, not a differentiation.

I was lucky at that time but luck requires you putting yourself out there and being open to new possibilities, concepts and, yes, technology.

Look at what everybody else is doing and do the opposite. Look to the future and see where the world is heading, and develop the skills and capabilities to meet that vision.

As Wayne Gretsky said, skate where the puck is going not where it’s at.

People will help you on your journey

When you’re a working class lad trying to do better for yourself people will help you on your path. This help may come in the form of extra support and guidance from a university lecturer. It may come in the form of a part-time job at an agency to get the all-important foot on the ladder. Or even a cheap place to live from a couple you don’t know in the usually expensive London while you find your feet.

All happened to me and today I still remember those people who gave me a leg up the social mobility ladder out of kindness.

If you have the right attitude and positive mindset people will warm to you. Be a relentless beacon of light and watch how people react.

Prepare to suffer an identity crisis

For a couple of years I struggled with my identity. One moment I was working in the crap and the dirt and with men where fights could and did break out on occasion.

The next I was in an office wearing a suit. With new friends and with a toned down accent so people could understand what I was saying.

I was living the middle-class life but I didn’t have the background. I didn’t go to the private school. Nor was I a fan of rugby. I like to eat fish and chips, not sushi.

Now and again I’d feel like a fraud. I felt like I was faking it. I felt I was betraying my background.

It was an identity crisis. Plain and simple. It was my old self wrestling with my new self. It was a natural process.

If you move to the socioeconomic ladder then you might suffer the same. Remember, it’s natural, it’s the old you making way for the new you and it will pass.

We live in a time where disruption both technologically and culturally is having a profound change on the world.

Things are moving at an advancing rate. New companies are evolving and old companies dying. Job roles and skills that weren’t around a few years ago are now in huge demand.

Opportunities are rife for those who want them. If you’re happy with your lot then who am I to judge but if you want more out of life then you have to put in the work to climb the social mobility ladder.


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