When you think about the “typical” career path, the steps always look pretty similar: individual contributor, manager, senior manager, VP, CEO. Because we’ve seen this same career ladder our entire lives, we automatically default to thinking that advancing in our careers means moving up into these management roles. And when I started my career, that’s exactly what I thought. “Managers run everything! Individual contributors don’t have much sway or influence. Why would I want to get stuck there?”

So, I did what we all typically do. I worked hard to climb the ladder and become a manager. But after pushing to get into those managerial roles, I found that leading people impacted my ability to be a parent. Because there’s so much more to being a good manager than having sway or influence - you have a team who looks up to you and relies on you to help them succeed alongside you.

That emotional commitment to leading people became costly to my family. For me, with two, then three (and now almost four!) young children, this added commitment made me have to choose between career “growth” and growing better as a Dad.

That’s not right! Why should I have to sacrifice that next rung of the career ladder just so I can balance being a parent and being a  professional? The truth was, I didn’t have to sacrifice either one. I just had to learn that there is no “one size fits all” career path. And moving “up” doesn’t mean you have to become a manager.

When I first came in to interview at HubSpot, the recruiter and I had a frank discussion about what I really wanted. I laid my cards on the table: I wanted a customer-facing, consultative, individual contributor role. I wanted to move away from management. A few months later I started on our Premier Services team, consulting our customers on how best to use the HubSpot software.

After five years of managing people, I had handed in my manager card and began again as an individual contributor. Making this change at work meant: my focus narrowed, I go deeper into the work itself, it’s more rewarding to me, and it’s a better fit with my life as a Dad.

After all, great work is done on a daily basis by individual contributors in every field. At HubSpot, our Co-Founder and Chief Technology Officer actually has zero direct reports. Managing no one, Dharmesh Shah does great work, impacting thousands of employees, tens of thousands of customers, and millions more. With Dharmesh as an example, HubSpot has structured many roles to offer growth and advancement while remaining an individual contributor.

When not leading a team, being a parent can take over a bigger portion of my brain. Maybe not all parents need to be individual contributors, but I learned that not all career advancement needs to be towards managerial roles, either. And there’s room to grow at work and grow as a parent.

If you:

  • Doubt whether you add more value as a manager
  • Are concerned about your relational bandwidth, including work and family
  • Value a narrower, deeper focus at work

Then being promoted to an individual contributor may be right for you.

I'd always viewed management as where I *should* progress to, but when viewed holistically, being an individual contributor was a better fit for me. I used to think it was a downgrade, from management back to an individual contributor. However, it really was an upgrade. It helped me in narrowing my focus at work, going deeper on what I am good at, made my job more rewarding, and a better fit with the rest of my life.

HubSpot taught me that choosing between growing at work and staying in an individual contributor role was a false choice -- that I could grow and have influence without having to manage people. And, I could still grow better as a Dad.


Originally published Jan 31, 2019 8:00:00 AM, updated January 19 2023