Career success means different things to different people.

And many individuals in the workforce today work to earn a paycheck, not in pursuit of any other purpose. That’s very common, and it’s ok too.

Others want and expect more than just a salary from “work”; they have a strong desire to succeed. 

But what is the definition of success?  What does career success look like?

Career Success Examples.

My friend Jenn has been a social worker for the past 15 years.  She’s worked for several government agencies and for herself as an independent consultant.

Jenn defines career success as “reach”.  She is very invested in helping disadvantaged groups and individuals gain access to needed resources.  The more lives she impacts with her work, the more accomplished she feels.

Connor, a former client, defines success by level of power and influence.  Conner is a mid-career director who is energized by learning new programming skills and “competing” with other coders. 

During our work together, Connor realized that he places a high value on his “director” title and wears it as a badge of achievement.  The title comes with power and influence within his organization which affords him a level of decision making authority in the office.

For others, career success could be entering a specific industry or field, obtaining a target position, earning a higher salary, etc. 

In recent years, freedom of time and flexible work locations have also become common success measures.

A Universal Definition Doesn’t Exist.

Despite success being the topic of thousands of personal and professional development books, articles, television and podcast interviews, as well as social media posts, there still is not a universal definition of career success.

However, there definitely are common external definitions of career success. 

Examples include high salary/earnings, material items such as homes, cars, etc., position titles, number of degrees or certifications, etc.  

Yet the existence of these common definitions doesn’t mean that any or all should be the yardstick by which you measure your own career success.

No.  In fact, it is a mistake to measure your success against what is important to others, but not important to you.  Doing so will only result in a lack of fulfillment or even worse, a sense of failure.

Have the courage to define career success on your own terms.

Photo by Sora Shimazaki on

Define Success for Yourself.

Every adult has the power to proactively decide “what” and “how” we engage in professional work. We also have the responsibility of understanding “our why”.

This goes beyond “obligations” or what you think you should do.  It also requires you to really dig deep and be honest with yourself (and others), rather than simply going through the motions in life or at work.

Ultimately, every professional should have a career success vision.  Because for most of us success is an ongoing journey, the vision will likely evolve over time. 

But the anchor, and starting point, is your definition.

Determining your own definition of career success may feel a bit daunting, but your self-reflection will definitely pay off.

Establishing a clear definition now will help you make important decisions along your career journey, as well as allow you to plan for your longer term goals.

You have to define success before you can achieve it.

A Reflection Exercise to Establish Your Career Success Definition.

Here are four reflection questions to guide you in establishing your own career success definition:

  1. Based on your experiences so far, what aspects of work do you most value?
  2. Reflecting on all of the jobs you’ve had, in which were you most fulfilled?  How come?
  3. Whose career do you admire?  What aspects of their career inspire you most?
  4. If money, time, and your current obligations didn’t matter, what type of work or career would you pursue?  And why?

Each of the above questions is significant and will require a great deal of thought.  Be prepared to spend time thinking each through.

My recommendation is that you write down (or type) each question and your responses.  Then step away for a period of time, come back, review and continue to edit/refine.

There’s no rush.  Spending time on crafting your definition of now will save you time in the future, so it’s ok to be deliberate and pace yourself.

You should continue to edit and refine your responses until you arrive at a career success definition that really resonates with you. 

And once you have that, it can become the yardstick you use to make your next and future career decisions.  As well as how you measure your own career success.

Additional Resources.

  1. A Definition of Career Success and Why So Few People Ever Experience It
  2. 11 Tips for Career Success

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