How Do You Define a Successful Career?

August 21, 2013
Year On TeamDirection Finding

Guest post by Mary Ila Ward

Mary Ila Ward is the owner of Horizon Point Consulting, Inc. with a mission to help people find passion and productivity in the workplace. You can connect with her by subscribing to her blog or via Twitter.

I once heard someone say that the pathway to success is much broader than becoming a “doctor, lawyer or Indian chief.” Unfortunately, the world we live in has in many ways defined career and life success in terms of traditional jobs, with traditional paths, where people seem to make a lot of money or have a lot of power.

As a career coach, I work with people of all ages to help them create meaningful lives for themselves through work. Throughout this process, I have found that success is much broader than the world tells us. In addition, “success” is not an objective state defined the same way for everyone, but has a very personal definition for each individual.

So what does success in a career and in life look like?

Answering these four questions may help you define success for yourself:

1. Do you get to showcase your talents in what you do? Everyone has something they are good at doing, even great at doing. People who are the most successful in their career know what they are good at and they are able to practice it and demonstrate it regularly in the work they do.

2. Do you get to live your passion? What cranks your tractor? What cause or type of work makes you motivated to get up out of bed in the morning? People who are successful know what their purpose and passion are and they live it instead of dreaming about it or ignoring it.

3. Does the work you do align with your values? In this instance, I’m not talking about universal values that make us “good” or “bad” people, but work and lifestyle values that are important to each individual. Does the way you are wired align with your work and lifestyle?

For example, I recently helped a manufacturing company select a screening instrument that helped them make better hiring decisions based on what the jobs they were hiring for required. We looked at people who were “successful” (defined in terms of supervisor ratings and job satisfaction) on the job to determine what personality traits and skills they had in common. After selecting the right tool, I took the assessment myself and scored low! (At first, this was a shot to my ego, but in reality, I would be terrible at this job!) I would not be successful there in terms of how I define success through my work and life values.

My work and lifestyle values are flexibility, variety and the ability to be entrepreneurial and creative. A person for this role would have the values of stability, routine and compliance. My values aren’t right or wrong, but they do govern how I define success in my career.

4. Can you make a living to support yourself and/or your family? Our society has largely determined success in terms of financial success. While I do not advocate for career decision-making based on dollar figures, I do believe success can be defined for almost all of us in terms of our ability to live a life where we are not dependent on someone or something else (like the government) to be able to put food on the table and a roof over our head. The great thing about this standard for success, however, is that if you live your talents, passions, and values, the money comes in a way that provides for what you need, and, in many cases, what you want. Money is a result of living by defining your own success instead of the means in which to define success.

By what criteria do you define your personal success?

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