Is career success important to you?
Probably yes, as few of us daydream about mediocrity or about life only coasting along.
But if I asked you to dig deeper and contemplate what career success really means to you, you might not know what to answer.
Is it having a certain amount of money on a bank account, a fancy car, a managerial position in a prestigious company?
Career success is a subjective term and means different things to different people.
Historically and stereotypically, it has been measured by money, power, and position.
Yet, there are so many highly paid professionals feeling empty, tired, unfulfilled, disconnected.
The notion above includes financial and professional aspects but doesn’t say anything about personal fulfillment.
Many people I speak to reach a point in their career where they recognize there is a gap between what they are working towards and what they actually want.
Where once they were driven to climb the corporate ladder and work long hours in the pursuit of “success,” that version of success now feels without meaning.
Doing a job that pays the bills but provides little to no sense of meaning or fulfillment is a common scenario in our society.
While our conscious intention may be to achieve ultimate success, there are three most common bad habits that we have allowed to deter us from our true desires and can be quite detrimental to achieving our meaningful career success.
Bad habit #1: You follow career success defined and measured by society.
How successful we are in our careers is measured from outside in terms of the degrees, salary, job titles, and desirable careers status.
It is undoubtedly that all these symbols bring comfort, wealth, security…but why are then so many »successful« people empty, tired, frustrated, anxious…
I believe that many of us know people who are unhappy in their roles yet have convinced themselves that their job is nevertheless a good one because it is prestigious, be it because of a prestigious company, job title, or salary.
As many surveys suggest, the thing is that roles regarded by society as successful are not necessarily also »the happy« ones.
Social norms would say that being a lawyer is a better job than being a florist. But for example, a survey from 2012 found that a full 87 percent of florists said they were happy at work, compared to just 64 percent of lawyers.
There are also surveys on the correlation between money and happiness that show that happiness rises in correlation with income up to a point but then actually falls as people get richer.
A study by think-tank The Legatum Institute looked at which occupations were paid the most and which had the highest life satisfaction.
It found that chief executives, while extremely well paid, were no happier than their secretaries.
Bad habit #2: You tend to compare yourself to others.
Perhaps you’ve been pleased with your salary at work. Then you discovered that a friend, who holds the same job position but in a different company, has a 1,000 EUR higher salary than you, suddenly your pride turns to anger.
Too often, we get sucked into comparing ourselves, our looks, status symbols, accomplishments, or overall success, to the people around us.
But there will always be someone with a higher salary, more responsible assignments, a bigger house, more followers…
And when you compete against other people, you actually judge yourself and your own life based on their values and metrics.
It means that you live someone else’s success and question your own worth and values. And consequently, you feel tired, frustrated, empty, disappointed, and unfulfilled.
Hence, isn’t this about winning the wrong game?
Bad habit #3: You attach your happiness to your success.
Happiness is the ultimate goal of virtually all the decisions we make in life, right?
But, is it true that success leads to happiness? Or, is it all the way around, and happiness leads to success?
Many people who have a strong desire to be successful in life tend to believe that through this success, be it a better job, promotion, higher salary, new house, they will automatically become happier.
This narrative says the greater success you conquer, the happier you will be in the future.
But that means that you sacrifice your present happiness for something which is still in the (distant) future.
Isn’t it like you put your life on a pause, and you plan to resume it after becoming successful?
You make your happiness contingent on achieving the next promotion, a higher salary, or whatever goal you’re seeking. “After I __________, I will become really happy.”
Sonja Lyubomirsky, Ph.D., one of the leading happiness researcher and the author of “The how of happiness: A scientific approach to getting the life you want. “, says that it’s a myth to believe that happiness can be changed by changing your life circumstances — for example, how well-educated you are, your net worth, the importance of your position, status symbols, etc. It has been estimated that life circumstances contribute to only about 10% of happiness.
“If we can accept as true that life circumstances are not the keys to happiness, we’ll be greatly empowered to pursue happiness for ourselves,” says Sonja Lyubomirsky
Meaning and fulfillment coming from your career success – define what it is for yourself.
True career success is not only about what you do. And it’s certainly not about proving anything to the world.
It’s more about finding who you are and fulfilling your own needs.
If everybody loves the mountains, but you prefer the sea, find a way to get to your ocean.
Hence, instead of comparing yourself to others, strive to know yourself better and, based on that, follow your true desires, and create goals that matter to you.
Don’t worry about what makes other people happy, whether that’s a fancy car, designer clothes, or a job title.
Instead, work out what actually makes you happy and focus on that.
There is only one person whom you should aim to be better: the person you were yesterday. Isn’t this the better game that is worth winning?
“The big question about how people behave is whether they’ve got an inner scorecard or an outer scorecard. It helps if you can be satisfied with an inner scorecard.” Warren Buffett
Choose your battles wisely
Defining what career success means to you takes some soul searching.
Here are some essential aspects of career success:
‣ Feeling fulfilled;
‣ Doing work that’s meaningful;
‣ Being valued and recognized for your contribution;
‣ Having the right opportunity for growth;
‣ Making an impact;
‣ Maintaining good health;
‣ Achieving financial stability;
‣ Developing meaningful relationships;
‣ Live work-life balance.
But suppose you don’t want to stay with only empty words.
In that case, you have to get clear on
…what you need to feel fulfilled,
…what is meaningful for you,
…what kind of recognition matters to you,
…what kind of growth you aspire to,
…what do you need to feel financially secure,
…what kind of relationships you want to be in,…
To be able to do that, you have to seek (career) clarity.
Career clarity is about how you think about tomorrow and what you do to stay connected with what matters today.
You can start with a small mental exercise.
Imagine that it’s three years in the future, and, sadly enough, you’ve passed away. Take a moment to visualize your own funeral. Imagine your loved ones – your partner, your best friend, maybe your dearest colleague – giving eulogies.
Now ask yourself what you’d like them to say. What sort of person do you want to be remembered as? For what do you want to be remembered?
And if you want to get an even more clear idea of what career success means to you, take some time and attention to the following questions:
➡ What talents and strengths of yours you want to use most of your time?
This might be your creativity or fixing problems, or recognizing and cultivating others’ potential, or turning thoughts into action, or arranging how different people work together most effectively,…
➡ What values do you want to be manifested in your career?
Is it freedom, kindness, growth, connection, compassion, achievements…
➡ What kind of impact do you want to make?
Is it improving processes, saving money to the company, helping people get better jobs, saving nature, encouraging others, solving specific problems,…
➡ Which career drivers are making you move forward?
Is it autonomy, mastery, creativity, contribution to the greater good,…
➡ Is your work based on your primary field of interest?
What are your interests? Think about what can you talk about for 20 min without any prior preparation?
➡ Which kind of work is aligned with your personality?
Do you like taking risks and constant changes or prefer a structured environment, do you prefer to stay with familiar people or enjoy meeting various new people…
➡ What kind of lifestyle and balance in your career are you searching for?
You don’t mind working long hours, or you really want to spend your afternoons and weekends with a work-free mind…
Even though these questions may seem basic, you would be surprised how much knowing the answers can affect your life.
Life for a cause and not only applause
Clarity comes from asking these questions continually and further refining your perspective on life.
It’s deeply personal and will most definitely change over time. It means, that you don’t just »get clarity« once that lasts the test of time.
You continuously seek clarity repeatedly as times change, and you change as you take on new projects or enter new social situations.
This kind of routine self-monitoring is one of the hallmarks of your success.
And not just career success, also life success in general.