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How to Define your own version of Career Success

Who springs to mind when you hear the word ‘success’? Is it your investment banker friend with the huge house, big car and exotic holidays? Is it the person you went to school with who is now a well known actress just receiving an award? Or is it your neighbour who manages to juggle running her own business with being there for her kids?

Many of us would automatically think of the first two because we have been conditioned to think of success in extrinsic terms – how much someone earns and what their job title or profession tells us about their status or celebrity. But your neighbour is also successful but in a very different way, and a way that is important to her.

Redefining how we see success and deciding for ourselves what is important to us can be the key mindset shift we need to make to enable success to happen.

One of my clients, Jackie, was stuck with status as her main definition of success. She wanted to be able to impress others when asked what she did for a living. This had led to her staying in a media job she no longer enjoyed partly because she was so concerned about what people would think of her. She had not considered how much more ‘impressed’ they may have been talking to someone who really enjoyed their job and was passionate about their career.

If we can focus more on the intrinsic elements of success and think about how we want to feel when we are successful it can be be very freeing, and can allow us to feel more fulfilled at work. Being able to let go of the belief about what other people think is also important, after all if they only value you because of your net worth they aren’t probably the kind of people you want to be around.

So how do you work out what your definition of success is going to be? Try asking yourself some of the following questions and see what emerges (not all of them will have resonance but the important ones for you will?

  • What is my legacy or life purpose going to be? How will I make a difference, and is it important that I do?
  • What do I want to achieve in my life? What are the goals that are land marks for me, that will fulfill me?
  • What opportunities would I like to have?
  • What would I like to learn? What academic achievements are important to me? What skills do I want to acquire?
  • What freedom and challenges do I crave in my life? How can they be financed?
  • How is money important to me?
  • Who are the people that are important for me to make a difference to or to be a role model for?
  • What part of my life do I need to create harmony within?
  • What do I enjoy doing that I want to do more of?

Depending on your answers you should be able to see the beginning of a definition forming. For me I am constantly working on my version and it currently looks like:

  • To be working with interesting and motivated clients to whom I feel I can make a difference
  • To have harmony between my work and life, taking time out to be there for my family and to energise my health and wellbeing
  • To stretch myself by saying yes to things that scare me, and to take opportunities to grow as a coach and a business owner
  • To earn enough to be a moderate ‘planet friendly’ consumer

The freedom working with this definition gives me is immense, and acts as a reassuring guide so I can remind myself that to be successful I need to pay attention to all the areas. For example, sometimes the harmony slips and work takes over so tuning into my definition helps remind me to re-balance. Similarly, when thinking about my pricing strategy I can remind myself of what I need to earn to be successful, and so on.

Mae West said, ” You only have one life but live it right and once is enough.” Think about what ‘living it right’ means for you but don’t wait too long before you make the important changes that will increase your sense of fulfillment and career happiness.

Let me know what your version of success is for you, by leaving a comment below.


Download my free e-book 10 Steps to Career Happiness for more challenge in defining your success criteria.

2 thoughts on “How to Define your own version of Career Success

  1. Thank you Sarah for the article. It has made me think how I want to shape my future. I would love to do what I am passionate about and love doing. I would love to work for myself, run my own business. What stops me? Fear that I will struggle financially and will get stressed about my financial status.

    1. Hi Marta I’m glad it made you think about your future and what you want. Fear is a big hurdle for lots of people, particularly around financial security but breaking the fear down and devising a plan to manage it can be really useful. Sarah x

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