What is success?
“… I realized that I was chasing ‘the next level’ without a very clear understanding of how that next level would play into feeling fulfilled and successful…“
Do you feel successful? According to recent statistics, over 25% of US employees would like to leave their jobs and around one-in-three are merely “somewhat satisfied” with their current position. In this article, I cover three (3) keys to defining your success and avoiding chasing characteristics defined by others.
In my leadership roles throughout my career I was often asked for advice on what skills, knowledge, behaviors, etc. were needed to “get to the next level” in the organization or field. Being completely transparent, I’m certain I had similar conversations with my managers and respected peers early in my career. It took some personal and professional growth to understand that there were other questions I needed to ask and explore myself beyond just the mechanics and skills needed to achieve the next title on the corporate ladder.
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At some point in my personal and professional growth I realized that I was chasing “the next level” without a very clear understanding of how that next level would play into feeling fulfilled and successful. Recent survey statistics suggest one-quarter (25%+) of US employees are interested in leaving their jobs. Around 30% of employees are merely “somewhat satisfied” and over half (51%) responded that they are “not engaged” in the workplace.
There are likely many different factors for employees feeling “disengaged” with or “unsatisfied” by their jobs. Without a clear, personal definition of success it’s easy to mistake other’s definitions as foundational to your goals and other career plans. I experienced these feeling of lacking fulfillment along my journey and was only able to address the gap through some personal exploration and revising plans based on the new foundation. When my definition of success was unclear and/or was influenced by others, I remember feeling unsuccessful and demoralized.
If you’re feeling unsatisfied in your current job or feel like something is “missing” ask yourself “What is ‘success’ to me?” If you haven’t already thought through this question you may find it more challenging than you expect. “More money”, “more responsibilities”, “a ‘better’ title”, and others are answers that might come easily to mind. How will those help you reach your goals and meet your definition of success? My point is that those answers are not definitions of “success” on their own.
Keys to defining “success”.
“…In the absence of a personal definition, family, friends, media, and other sources will all advise you on what to view as ‘success’…”
So how can success be defined? To me there are three (3) keys to defining success:
- Make “success” personal. In the absence of a personal definition, family, friends, media, and other sources will all advise you on what to view as “success”. Make more money – spend more money and all will view you as “successful” – sound familiar?
- Defining “enough” is a major step. It’s difficult to know you’ve achieved success without some measurement. That’s where “enough” is a key word to keep in mind when defining success.
Please don’t misunderstand – I’m not suggesting meeting your goal, declaring victory, and going no further. My point is to consciously know what opportunities and possibilities are opened by reaching that goal. I’m a big believer in and supporter of lifelong growth. The key is knowing how your growth supports and fulfills your values. Acquiring wealth, knowledge, land, etc. without purpose will be unending and unfulfilling at best. Without knowing what is “enough” for you there will will always be a drive to have “more” and a feeling of incomplete success.
- Track progress on your path – be cautious of direct comparison to others. It can be exciting and rewarding to review and celebrate your progress on your career path. It can also be discouraging if you discount most or all of your progress by comparing directly to others.
I realize we do not live in a vacuum and comparisons with others are inevitable. For example, during annual performance assessments your manager will compare your contributions to others. It’s easy to be discouraged if you’re comparing yourself to someone else who had a particularly strong contribution for the year. As a leader I always appreciated team members that worked on their personal development consistently from year to year and looked for ways to reward them.
When considering self-improvement, it is good to learn from others and selectively incorporate similar characteristics and habits that play to your strengths. It is not good to “try to be” that person. Work on motivations for self-improvement and let your “best” stand against others.
So what does defining success look like? To demonstrate, let me share my own, current definition of success.
My personal definition of success:
Baseline: Meet the basic financial and non-financial needs for myself, my family, and my loved ones.
Aspirational: Acquire and use knowledge, skills, and assets to own my time and use that time to help others bringing me a sense of fulfillment.
Note a few things about the statements:
- I divide my definition into “baseline” and “aspirational”.
- The baseline represents meeting the minimal needs for myself and my loved ones. As I’m working through goals and plans this definition is sufficient for me to set clear figures for defining what’s “enough” to meet my basic needs.
- The “aspirational” definition serves me as a driver and measure for success beyond my basic needs.
- The keys to aspirational success are incorporating available resources to effectively have greater ownership of my available time, continuing to cultivate skills and resources, and use those existing and acquired resources to help others. In return, I get a sense of fulfillment and purpose.
- “Fulfillment and purpose” are not easily measured but goals to provide a certain number of resources (like this blog) and work directly to coach a number of others are measurable and motivational for continuous improvement.
- New goals and plans can be evaluated for their impact to both basic and aspirational definitions of success. As you may guess, there’s much less risk tolerance for a plan that may impact meeting my basic definition of “success”.
If you’re feeling unfulfilled or are doubting your own success in your career, I hope you’ll take some time to personalize your definition of success and identify your baseline needs (your “enough”) as foundations for your planning and self-assessment. As noted earlier, this process can be difficult without some help. I’m here to help. A career coaching session or program can help you tackle this topic and accelerate progress on your career path – reach out to me through this link and I’ll be glad to discuss options with you.
If you’re feeling unfulfilled or are doubting your own success in your career, I hope you’ll take some time to personalize your definition of success and identify your baseline needs (your “enough”) as foundations for your planning. As noted earlier, this process can be difficult without some help and support. A career coaching session or program can help you tackle this topic and accelerate progress on your career path – reach out to me through this link and I’ll be glad to discuss options with you.
Do you have additional thoughts on your personal definition of success? Do you have differences of thought you are willing to share? I’d love to get your thoughts and feedback on this and other blog posts. Drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org or comment on LinkedIn, Facebook, or Instagram. And sign up for my newsletter below to be notified about upcoming articles and events from Mindring Consulting!
Resources and Attributions
- Job Satisfaction Statistics – Zippia.com – https://www.zippia.com/advice/job-satisfaction-statistics/
- Personal definition of success – Berkley Wellbeing – https://www.berkeleywellbeing.com/definition-of-success.html
- Definition of success by famous people – globalexperiences.com – https://www.globalexperiences.com/blog/successful-people-define-success
- Video: What is Success (Sarah Garr) – TedX West Vancouver – https://youtu.be/S2LKi-KeiUE
- Video: Defining Your Own Success (Sam Solie) – Ted Talks (TedX CU) – https://youtu.be/DSB_NoPUn3E
- Licensed Images from Envanto