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If I asked you if you were okay or satisfied with your career, I bet many people would say that they were. However, if I asked if your career was truly “successful”, what would you answer? There are probably hundreds of internet articles on ways to achieve success, either in a job, career or business . However, even though there is plenty of advice and guidance on ways to achieve success, for many people it can remain elusive. Achieving success can be challenging, because it can be complicated. First, there are obstacles preventing a person from reaching goals that he/she would like to achieve. Whether the goal is a certain salary level, promotion, specific job role or particular company, they may be stopped by multiple challenges. However, I think what is more challenging than even getting to an intended goal is whether the person reaching it will see it as a “success”. Sometimes, people create and achieve many goals, but they do not feel as if they are successful or fulfilled. Ultimately, they can be unclear about what success means to them. I believe that this lack of clarity in defining success is one of the biggest career challenges, and yet some people never take a deep dive into exploring and clarifying it.
Some time ago, I became very intrigued with the concept of career success from watching a 48 hours episode. The specific episode was titled “Kiss of Death and the Google Exec”. The episode was about a 51-year-old executive, Forest Hayes. From an outside perspective and by all accounts, Hayes had a very successful life and career. He was hired as a top executive to work at Google X, one of the company’s most technologically innovative and imaginative division. Hayes could be described as “high-powered”, as he had lots of assets that included a $3 million dollar home in California. He had one prized possession a 46-foot-long yacht valued at $200,000 dollars. It had a high-end security system, and even had a captain’s chair estimated to be $8,000 dollars. He also appeared to be happily married for 17 years to his wife and had five children.
I don’t think that anyone would have guessed that he would die alone on his prized possession, the 46-foot-long yacht. Hayes was left dead on his yacht through a fatal injection of heroine, after an encounter with an escort. The entire story is really quite sordid and tragic, and I will not recount the actual details of his passing. You can Google the complete story, if you so choose. The details of his death are not relevant to this discussion. More importantly, the significant question is, how does someone who seemingly has everything, end up dead under such scandalous and seamy circumstances? From an outside perspective he seemed to have it all. Hayes had a family, money, respected career and many personal assets, and yet he sought out drugs and paid companionship.
I realize that I have used a very extreme example to discuss career success. However, I wanted to really drive home my main point. It is this. There are many people who strive and work hard for the type of success that Hayes had and for many of these people this type of success is very fulfilling, and for others such as Hayes, it is not. A person may have all the external success but still be internally miserable and unsatisfied, even feeling hopeless with their life. There are people who seem to “have it all”, and yet, they may not view themselves as successful, feel happy or be joyous. Sometimes, these people’s stories end in sadness and tragedy. Forest Hayes certainly wasn’t fulfilled, even though he attained a significant level of professional, personal and material success. He still sought after something elusive, in an attempt to reach a greater sense of fulfilment.
The irony is that most of us know that success is highly subjective, being defined uniquely and individually, by each person. True success is defined independently of other people, as only you can define your own success. However, many people still seek the opinions, expectations and perspectives of others around them. To be able to find real and authentic career success you must go through the process of clarifying it, for yourself. I am not saying that if you don’t define success that your life will end in tragic death, as Forest Hayes did. However, if you never define success for yourself you might wind up in a career that is completely unfulfilling, unsatisfying and miserable. I give you four ideas to ponder, when reflecting on your career success:
Clarify Your Definition of Success
Clarity sorts out confusion. If want to head in the right career direction, then you need to have vision. Having no career vision is similar to jumping on a plane for a vacation and not knowing where it is going. Ultimately, you are making no decisions, and you will not know where you are heading. This would seem ridiculous to most people, however, it’s simply astounding how many people do this with their career. They simply apply to whatever job opportunities are available and take the first job that meets their life needs and necessities, instead of planning and mapping out their long-term career focus. No clarity means having no real control over your own career outcomes and future. So, begin to think and reflect on what career success means to you. Start to clarify your own definition of career success.
Ensure Your Definition of Success is Authentic to You
There’s a quote by Harry Truman stating that “If you don’t have your own goals, you’ll be doomed to work toward someone else’s.” Yet, we have tendencies to be guided by those around us. Everyone has recommendations for our career, such as our parents, friends, family, co-workers, bosses, priests, hairdresser, mechanic, plumber and even the news media. It’s easy to rely on the opinions of others when we are unsure of our direction. However, instead of looking externally to others, it’s important to begin an active internal reflection and mediation. As the saying goes, “The heads thinks. The heart knows”. Rely on authentic parts of yourself to help you guide your career decision making and direction
Prioritize Areas of Career Success
Finding career success means determining what is truly important. There are many things in your career that you may want to succeed at. You will have many goals and achievements that you would like to attain and accomplish. However, there is one element that will stop you from reaching all that you would like to achieve: time. Time
always marches forward, and it will be continuously running out on you. You must pick the most important goals, if you want your career to feel successful, while also leading to greater happiness and fulfilment. You must not waste time on things in your life that don’t matter or contribute to feeling successful. When you waste time on things that are not important then it can lead to major regrets over not achieving the essential goals that you deeply wanted to reach.
Choose What Makes You Come Alive
In a previous blog, I discussed that it’s important to find passionate and interesting career activities, as these are major contributors to a positive life. These activities will support your overall well-being, while helping you to reach your highest potential. Many successful people love the work they do, using intrinsic motivation to overcome big obstacles and reach very challenging career goals. Unfortunately, there are many more people who choose work that is ordinary, mundane and dull. These days of monotony turn into months, which eventually turn into years of boring and never-ending work. It’s difficult if not impossible to feel that your career is a success when you are not engaged and interested in it. However, it’s surprising that people never ever search for passion in their work over their entire lifetime. Will you?