How Do You Define Career Success?

Middle-aged businessman looking outside skyscraper floor-to-ceiling-window
GaudiLab /

What is success?

The answer to that question is hard to present. Success means different things to different people. Some merely want to put groceries on the table and survive until tomorrow. Others want to keep up with the Joneses. Your friend strives for a luxury vehicle, a penthouse in the middle of the city and the latest consumer goods. Your cousin, meanwhile, is perfectly happy freelancing and travelling the world. The subjectivity is why it is impossible to proffer an objective response to ‘how do you define success?’.

Everyone has their own idea and definition of what success is. A job title, a swelling bank account, a hobby turned into a career – you do you, as the hip kids say these days on The Facebook.

That said, just because there isn’t a CliffsNotes page, an emoji or a 140-character tweet for succeeding, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you should shrug your shoulders and concede defeat. It is important for all of us to travel down that road because then perhaps we can finally discover meaning, something that has seemed like a foreign concept to millions of young people worldwide struggling to advance their careers or establish that small business.

Let’s first discuss why it is important to define career success.

Why Define Success?

You may think it is superfluous to spend a few minutes of your day trying to define success. But it isn’t. Do you know why? Because what you think is achievement, victory and meaning is now your measuring stick of how you perform in your career.

A common problem for the modern-day professional is that they treat every day as a routine. If you go through life this way, then it can be impossible to attain your goals because you’re unwilling to take those extra steps that can make you stand out from the crowd or take a chance on a private venture.

Ultimately, if you have a checklist of what makes you happy and how you define success, then you can check off each item as the days go by.

How to Define Success

The hard part is now finding out if you are content and excited over your career. While it will vary from person to person, there’s generally a handful of questions to ask yourself when you’re looking to see if you’re successful:

  • Do love your career? You wake up in the morning – rain or shine – and you’re eager, enthusiastic and excited to start your day, go to work and complete what needs to get done. Or, at the very least, you should feign this behaviour – fake it until you make it, as they say.
  • Do you fit in the business? There are many workers who easily fit in any organisation and can complete tasks with ease and without supervision. On the other hand, there are employees who need constant guidance and are given multiple changes to improve their work. Which one describes you?
  • Are you making enough money? If you got married and had two children, would you be able to support them? No, we’re not hinting that you will now be given an 18-year prison sentence, but it’s a great way to gauge if you’re earning enough money in your job.
  • Are you showcasing your talents? When you first started your career, you were like LeBron James and told the world, ‘I’m taking my talents to Vandelay Industries’. But are you really showcasing your talents? That’s an important thing to realise, because if you’re not bringing your human capital to the job, then what are you doing besides earning a paycheque?
  • Are you always developing? In any job, you should never stick to the status quo and stand idly by waiting for industries and economies to change around you. While some private firms foster personal development, it is really up to you to advance in your career. But you need the will to do so, whether it is taking a night course or finding a mentor in the company.
  • Are you achieving your younger goals? In your teens, you had visions of burning the midnight oil, changing the world, living in the heart of New York City and going on television to talk about industry changes. You’re now in your 30s and life hasn’t exactly turned out that way. Instead, you’re working 9am to 5pm without a promotion in sight or significant pay raise. Suffice it to say, you’re not reaching the goals you listed years ago. Sad.

Indeed, if you’ve answered ‘yes’ to all these questions, then you might be succeeding, and you don’t even know it.

While you may have your own series of questions to ask, this list is a good starting point for anyone, whether you’re an entry-level clerk or a chief executive.

A New Philosophy

We all have New Year’s resolutions, even if it’s a resolution not to have any resolutions! Most of them require a physical effort, like going to the gym or improving your dietary habits. But this one doesn’t mandate physical exertion; it’s all in the mind.

One resolution is to change your daily philosophy. Moving forward, it would be prudent to modify the way you think about your career and overall life. If you’re upset, discontent and downright miserable about your existence, then perhaps a change in thinking is what the doctor ordered.

In 2019 – and beyond – here are steps that can breed success:

  • Are there alternatives? Accept that there are plenty of alternatives in the labour market and in the world.
  • Do you have alone time? When you’re overwhelmed, create some ‘you’ time to perform elementary introspection and be quiet with your thoughts.
  • Have you taken another look? Reassess your life from time to time; are you satisfied with how your life is going?
  • How do you answer questions? Modify your responses to basic questions to make them more honest. In your own words, how would you handle a belligerent customer on Christmas Eve?
  • Are you making yourself happy? Do what makes you happy, not others – trying to please others will yield disappointment, and it will also produce resentment.
  • Are you working hard enough? You can only succeed if you work hard, so you might want to improve your work performance, excel at work by being dedicated and employ achievable career goals to get that promotion.

It might be a case of easier said than done but attempting to transform the way you think and even behave is the way to commence your journey to success. Indeed, it will take a long time to institute a different approach to life, but it’s a worthwhile investment.

Winston Churchill wrote: ‘Success is not final, failure is not fatal; it is the courage to continue that counts’. Suffice it to say, it is critical to not stand on a treadmill even when you think you have it all. On the other hand, if you’re on the cusp of success, but you keep falling off the horse, you need to learn to pick yourself up – even if means doing so dozens of times.

It’s about having the determination, the will and the valour to do so.

We all have unique ways to assess success. For you, it could be the desire to work on a typewriter all day long in Venice and writing the greatest novel since Agatha Christie’s The Murder of Roger Ackroyd. For your colleague, their response to ‘what is success?’ might entail trading thousands of shares on the New York Stock Exchange, driving around in a BMW and having a new date every night of the week. Achieving this success depends on you – are you ready for it?

Would you like to add anything? Join the conversation down below and let us know.