Last week, I lost my best friend, my college roommate, my mentor, my mentee, my confidant, my consigliere, and most of all, my twin brother.

He passed away from complication from a terrible car accident that he never fully recovered from.

The loss for me is immense and my heart is broken.

Our family traveled to Raleigh/Cary, North Carolina area for the wake/services.

As part of the Thomas family tradition, once all the guests leave the house the night before the funeral, we gather around (just family members and close friends)  to tell stories about the deceased. We have perfected this ritual within the Thomas family.

Only one job — and no climb up the career ladder

Since my family has always been one who loves a good laugh, we all tell funny stories. I am sure the neighbors could not comprehend all the laughter on Friday night before the funeral.

My stories lead with college antics that we (my brother and I) pulled since he was my roommate for three years. What really brought silence, however, was when I told everyone that my brother was the only person I knew since college that worked in private enterprise and that only had one job.

Yes, that is not a typo.

He joined a large company as a sales rep in the Raleigh area in the mid-1970s. That was the launching pad, and that was also the only job that he would ever have. He held this job until about three years ago when he got into a terrible accident that had him laid up for close to a year.

He never really recovered. He eventually retired. His company threw a big dinner and he got the proverbial gold watch.

During all those years, there was plenty of opportunity for him to climb the ladder, but each time he was approached, he declined. However, they kept coming back to ask and the answer was still no

Left alone — and flourishing

I once asked him why and he said that he was totally happy where he was. He loved his customers, they loved him, and each year he would lead or be right at the top of the sales chain. He did not want to manage people, which would have been the next step up the ladder.

All he wanted to do was sell. Helping his customers solve their problems was what he relished.

In a lot of companies, I told him, he would have been phased out, but luckily his company finally agreed with him and they left him alone — and he continued to flourish each and every year.

I would always tease him that he was a relic of the past. I told him that if he worked within a company where I ran HR, I would literally not know what to do with him. His answer to that was: just leave me alone and let me do my job.

In our companies today, we are all diligently working on succession planning, engagement, and a host of other initiatives.

Making room for those on a different path

But there is no one size that fits all for anything anymore. There is also no career ladder anymore, but there is a lattice. Each person’s career journey is different.

Career development today is so much more than just identifying a series of career moves or steps on a walkway to the Holy Grail of career nirvana. Everyone has to understand their own personal brand.

Career plans must be developed and tailored to our talents and interests in order for both the organization and the person to be fulfilled.

The ladder of our parents careers were mostly an offshoot of the Industrial Revolution. Change has made this organically impossible for today’s workforce.

So, if you happen to have an employee like my brother Donald, leave him be. He may be just as valuable to your organization where he is as opposed to where his next step is up the career ladder.

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