In many militaries, sufficient degrees of badassery or competence can get someone promoted above where their background would usually allow. Sometimes they don't want to, preferring the relative freedom of lower rank combined with behind the scenes influence. The potential promotee will explain that command comes with too many headaches, too much responsibility, not enough action, or a dozen other reasons, but they all boil down to being happy where they are. They are often deliberately averting The Peter Principle, by refusing to be promoted out of their range of competence. This often leads to becoming an Almighty Janitor.
Another reason for this is simple pragmatism. Someone may decide they want to retire or separate from the military and therefore aren't interested in being promoted, because accepting the promotion also means incurring an additional service commitment of anywhere from three to five years where you are not allowed to separate or retire (except for medical reasons). Promotions get turned down fairly regularly for this reason by personnel who have made up their mind to leave.
A darker version of this has someone refuse a promotion only to discover that their superiors have now inferred, rightly or wrongly, that they don't (or didn't at the time) have the drive to advance and thus are no longer allowed to.
Contrast Up Through the Ranks (a veteran enlisted man gains a commission as an officer), Kicked Upstairs (someone is promoted to get them into a position of less power), and Rank Up (Super Trope for plain old promotion). People in this trope may be well aware of being a Desk Jockey.
Compare Dismissing a Compliment, Medal of Dishonor when they don't like the promotion because of shady reasons behind it, who may or may not take the new position anyway. Passed-Over Promotion deals with somebody else being promoted in their place.
- One Piece:
- Marine Vice Admiral Garp has been offered the promotion to the rank of Admiral multiple times, and rejected all of them, claiming that the rank would only keep him from having the freedom he already has.
- Despite being strong enough to be one, Blackbeard declined to become one of Whitebeard's commanders, saying he didn't have the ambition to be one. His motives were to remain hidden under the name Whitebeard until he grew strong enough to shock the entire world in a single moment.
- The title character of Lyrical Nanoha repeatedly refuses promotions, so she is still a Captain in Magical Record Lyrical Nanoha Force, even though her friend and equal Hayate already commands an entire unit (in Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha Strikers, Hayate was an army Lt.Col. but the Navy doesn't seem to use the same ranks). Nanoha does it mainly to stay on active Combat Instructor duty.
- The top ranked heroes in each of One-Punch Man's lower hero classes all frequently decline promotion to the next rank. Each has their own reasons:
- Sweet Mask has the skill and powers of an S-Class hero, but chooses to stay in the A-Class as a gatekeeper to make sure that heroes who are "weak, good-for-nothing 'garbage'" do not enter the S-Class and make the Hero Association look bad.
- Fubuki has skills and power well above her rank as well, but declines promotion since she can't surpass Sweet Mask, and she'd rather be number one in B-Class than get stuck as second best.
- The Licenceless Rider has done enough heroic things to promote him to B-Class, but refuses to do so because he feels he's not fit for that class and would rather continue helping in class C. It also helps that he's not suited to combat supervillains and thus wouldn't do well in a rank where he has to do more than charity work.
- In Season One of Yu-Gi-Oh! GX, after Judai's first conclusive win over Manjyome during an important exam, he was granted a promotion to Ra Yellow status. However, he turned the promotion down, preferring to remain in the Osiris dorm where Sho and Hayato were. (Sho did not forget this; while he was later accepted into Ra and even into Obelisk later, and didn't turn the actual promotions down, he still chose to live in the Osiris dorm to support his friend.)
- Sarge in All Guardsmen Party refuses Inquisitor Oak's offers to be made an interrogator, and always tells his men to "never trust anyone above the rank of sergeant". Subverted later when he reluctantly accepts. Doing so only to ensure that the squad no longer has to serve any other crazy inquisitors-in-training.
- Despite it being his dream for most of his life, in Eroninja Naruto turns down Tsunade's offer to make him Hokage as he'd refuse to do the job halfheartedly but doesn't want to be forced into a position like is father was where he'd have to choose between the village and his family.
- The Somewhat Cracked Mind Of Uchiha Itachi: Gaara mentions in a letter to Naruto after his return to Suna that everyone wanted Elder Chiyo to succeed his father Rasa as Kazekage after the latter was removed from power. According to Baki, however, when they went to tell her she told them "screw you" which they had to take as a decline. This isn't really surprising, considering that earlier in the fic it was established that Chiyo hated politics; according to Kankuro, her appearances at council meetings mainly consisted of her telling the Sand Siblings' dad to "piss off".
- The Pieces Lie Where They Fell: In Chapter 11 of the sequel Picking Up the Pieces, Lieutenant Mist Flight is mentioned as having been offered a Captain's position before, but always declining because he liked where he was. He winds up becoming Acting Captain General as a result of Internal Affairs' actions against Gentle Step, who decides to use a sick day and leave Mist in charge.
- In The Thing (1982), Norris is offered to take over command by the resigning former commander, but turns it down.
"I'm sorry fellas, but I'm not up to it."
- In Star Trek: Generations James T. Kirk tells Jean-Luc Picard "Don't let them promote you", since that would mean that he would leave the Enterprise.
- In Star Trek Beyond Kirk eventually takes his own advice. Early in the movie he's stated to have applied for promotion to admiral to take a position at Yorktown Starbase, but in the denouement he turns it down: "Where's the fun in that?"
- Sam Vimes in Night Watch is masquerading as Sergeant At Arms John Keel when he's offered a promotion to officer and a transfer to the Cable Street Particulars. He refuses on the grounds that he's "not qualified", but in reality he both doesn't want to join the Particulars due to their being monsters and knows that with his experience he can become the Almighty Janitor almost instantly in his current place.
- Sergeant Jackrum of Monstrous Regiment has repeatedly refused promotions to remain a sergeant, so as to make sure the new recruits are made proper soldiers instead of Ensign Newbie (and keeps blackmailing the top brass to stay there). Although by the time of the book it's not promotion but retirement that's the danger.
- Matt Braddock is the hero of several 50s serials, the novel I Flew With Braddock and two comic strips. He's a British bomber pilot with no time for petty rules and refused a commission because it would hold him back from the action.
- Star Wars Legends:
- Commander Wedge Antilles spends more than half the X-Wing Series trying to keep Admiral Ackbar from promoting him to general and out of the pilot's chair. The two of them even make a bet in the Wraith Squadron sub-series on whether the squadron will fail, and if Wedge loses he has to take the promotion. He finally accepts in Isard's Revenge upon finding out that his pilots have also been refusing deserved promotions, following his example, so that some of the greatest pilots in the Republic are ranked (and paid) as mere flight officers, the lowest rank an active pilot can have.
- Luke Skywalker in Alan Dean Foster's Splinter of the Mind's Eye.
Luke had no experience with titles, hence no use for them. When the Rebel leaders offered him any reward within their ability to grant, he had asked only to be permitted to continue piloting a fighter in the Alliance's service. Some thought his request unduly modest, but one shrewd general disagreed, explaining how Luke might be more valuable to the Rebellion without a title or commission which, the veteran pointed out to his colleagues, would serve only to make the youth a prime target for Imperial assassination.
- The rest of the Legends continuity is at odds with that early portrayal, of course. Luke's desire for adventure in the original trilogy includes a desire for advancement; Shadows of the Empire even notes that if Obi-Wan could be a General and a Jedi (before the prequels would clarify how that came to be), why couldn't he? (Later, he resigns after his first battle as a general due to the Chains Of Commanding
- In Forward the Foundation, the Emperor of the Galactic Empire is assassinated by a gardener he took a liking to. The gardener was promoted to Head Gardener over his protests—as Head Gardener he'd have to manage people and do paperwork instead of gardening, which is what he enjoys.
- Harry Potter:
- Horace Slughorn is described as "preferring the backseat" in Half-Blood Prince. However, it's not so much exerting power as it is enjoying being able to influence the world thanks to former students he gave a boost to (casting a vote for a new junior minister or getting free tickets to a Quidditch match). Harry has a mental image of a spider pulling a webstrand to bring a juicy fly closer.
- It was stated more than a few times Mr. Weasley could have easily been promoted within the Ministry of Magic years ago, but enjoyed where he was in the Misuse of Muggle Artifacts Office too much. (It's also implied that he and Minister Fudge had radically differing viewpoints regarding Muggles and blood purity, which may have also contributed to his lack of promotion.) He does finally take a promotion AND get rank in the Order of Phoenix as the series goes on, however.
- Albus Dumbledore was repeatedly offered the chance to become Minister for Magic. He declined every time in order to remain at Hogwarts. It turned out that he was afraid of his weakness for power. Minister Cornelius Fudge still badgered Dumbledore for advice in his first years in office, though.
- Ciaphas Cain is a downplayed example. It's mentioned in a footnote in "The Greater Good" that he would more than qualify as a "Lord Commissar" (which is technically a title connoting respect, since the Commissariat is made up of equals) but refuses to be called such. Downplayed because he still gets the respect and influence either way; he just does it as part of his Humble Hero persona.
- In the In Death stories, Lt. Dallas has, in the in-story span of 2 -1/2 years, solved so many spectacular cases that she's now a public celebrity. She was offered a captaincy but declined on the grounds that while she could be a good captain, she's more useful in the field.
- In Artemis Fowl: The Opal Deception, Holly tries to refuse her upcoming promotion because it would make work more boring. Commander Root talks her out of it, explaining that she'll do more good at a desk job.
- In Lords of the Underworld, the least powerful angels are joybringers- those employed to whisper "beautiful affirmations in human ears." When Olivia is promoted into the warrior caste, which involves battling monstrous demons, she is understandably dismayed.
- At the end of Tanya Huff's Valor's Choice, the general offers the protagonist Staff Sergeant Torin Kerr a commission as an officer for more-or-less singlehandedly getting the Silsviss to join the Confederation. Because she's still pissed about the near-Uriah Gambit the brass pulled to put her in that positionnote , she turns him down saying she could never be an officer because "my parents were married." She does, however, accept a Rank Up to gunnery sergeant between The Better Part of Valor and The Heart of Valor.
- Star Trek: Titan — The Red King describes the underside of this trope that isn't addressed much, stating that if William Riker hadn't finally left Enterprise to accept a promotion to captain and a command of his own (the eponymous USS Titan), he would not have gotten another offer. In other words, by continually refusing to be promoted during Star Trek: The Next Generation he was actually screwing up his career.
- In Tom Clancy's novel Red Storm Rising, the aging Lieutenant Commander Jerry "The Hammer" O'Malley was a US Navy helicopter pilot who "cared more for his trade than for promotion boards."
- In The Lost Fleet, upon finally returning the fleet to Alliance space, Geary is offered a promotion from Captain all the way to Fleet Admiral, a rank no one has ever held in the history of the Alliance (probably because a good number of admirals dream of overthrowing the civilian leadership). Geary is reluctant, especially since it's highly unorthodox to jump so many ranks. He does, eventually accept, but only on the condition that he be demoted back to Captain after the mission is over. This serves two purposes: it keeps him in command rather than pushing paperwork somewhere in Fleet HQ and it keeps him the same rank as his Love Interest, so they can get married. He does get promoted to Admiral shortly after the demotion, though, but they already get married by that point.
- In the Honor Harrington series, refusing promotion in most navies is career suicide - you not only won't get another promotion offer, but you'll be beached as quickly as possible and never hold another position of responsibility again. Lester Tourville instead avoids promotion by being known for such eccentricity that they can't push him beyond rear admiral, because he doesn't want to have to deal with the political shit that being a vice admiral would get him - until he captures Honor Harrington, who's racked up enough of a legend by then that they pretty much have to promote him.
- In the Temeraire series, Granby, Laurence's first lieutenant, is offered a captaincy of his own, but he declines out of loyalty to Laurence. Though not as sternly seen as in the real life Royal Navy at the time, the Aerial Corps have a similar view of those who decline promotions, and Laurence is actually somewhat abashed that Granby did so for him, noting he's unlikely to get another shot anytime soon. The Aerial Corps has slightly different rules, however, and within a year Granby is a captain because he's the highest-ranked unattached officer available at a dragon hatching.)
- Star Trek: The Next Generation:
- William Riker, aka "Number One". He's offered his own command in the series, three separate times, it is eventually revealed, but doesn't accept it because he feels his place is serving at Captain Picard's side. It is pointed out that by staying where he is, he is denying other officers the chance to serve in that position, and that it could reflect poorly on him in the long run. He finally averts it in Star Trek: Nemesis by accepting command of the USS Titan.
- In the Season 1 episode "Coming of Age", Picard is offered a promotion to admiral and the position of commandant of Starfleet Academy. He chooses to remain where he is.
- In an episode of Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C. Gomer's unit (all privates) are to take the Corporal's test. Gomer doesn't want to at first because "the Private is the backbone of the Marines" and he likes being the backbone.
- Madam Secretary: The season 1 finale "There But for the Grace of God" reveals in a flashback that Liz McCord chose to retire from the CIA rather than accept a promotion to Baghdad station chief, because it would've meant leaving her husband and three kids for at least a year. Her friend Juliet got the job instead, implied to be her Start of Darkness.
- In the Season Finale of Power Rangers S.P.D., the B-Squad Rangers are offered a promotion to A-Squad. They collectively turn it down, saying that B-Squad is who they are. The A-Squad designation is thereafter retired.
- Quark. After saving the galaxy from the Gorgons, Quark is offered command of his own starship. However he insists that his crew be promoted with him, as they deserve equal credit. "If they don't go, I don't go." So the Head obliges...by not promoting Quark after all.
- According to The Gates of Hell, when Belial was an angel, he has been offered multiple promotions from his position as a healer of mortals and declined them all. It was believed to be due to him loving being around mortals and helping them. In reality, of course, he knew that should he be promoted, he'll have to spend his time around beings too powerful to hide his true nature from.
- Paranoia book High Programmers (for running them as PCs) drops a rumor about a conspiracy of Violets feeding the Ultraviolets misinformation, allowing the Violets to actually run the show while maintaining a (slightly) lower profile.
- Halo: Edward Buck's bio in the Halo 5: Guardians Limited Edition states that as an Orbital Drop Shock Trooper, he turned down or deliberately sabotaged multiple promotions in order to remain a small-unit commander. By Guardians though, he's been made a Spartan-IV, and has occasionally been given command roles, such as Spartan Commander of the UNSC Meriwether Lewis and joint-forces liaison for Locke's Fireteam Osiris.
- Koki Kariya of The World Ends with You is rather more powerful than his Reaper rank would suggest. He claims it's because he's too lazy for higher-ranked work, and he likes his job the way it is, but it's implied that his real reason is to stick with his partner Uzuki. It's also implied that Uzuki knows this, and that the reason she's so desperate to earn promotions is that she thinks she's holding him back.
- Warrant Officer Thurl from Schlock Mercenary says that the moment he's offered a commission he'll resign.
- The US Marine Corps offered Terminal Lance creator Max Uriarte, who retired as a lance corporal (hence the webcomic's name, from a Marine slang term for a Marine who's going to be stuck as an E-3 until he musters out), a promotion to full corporal if he'd reenlist. He said no.