March 14, 2017
What does it mean to be successful in your chosen career - and why does it matter so much to us what people think of how we live our lives?
Every day, inspirational quotes across Instagram encourage us to ‘live for the moment’ and ‘seize the day’.
Authors, athletes and world leaders tell us to follow our hearts - anything is possible. You can do anything you want if you’re bold, and jump - success is yours for the taking.
Is this really the way to chase career success? Should you throw caution to the wind and relying on the mercy of the fates to ensure you make it? And, by the way, what does success even mean?
Success - specifically, success at work - is difficult to define. Is it lots of money? Being able to do what you love for a living? Power? An office with a view?
In truth, success at work is all of the above and none of the above - it’s just what matters to you. Your dad might think it's a large salary, a company car, and a great salary. And there’s nothing wrong with that - that’s your dad’s definition, and shows what he places value on - what speaks to his feelings of self-worth.
However, if it’s not yours, that’s OK too.
In truth, a successful career is the result of small, iterative steps you've taken throughout your life to get to where you want to be. It’s knowing that you’re on the right track and that you’re moving closer to your goal. It doesn't have to be a speedy process. You don't have to be a CEO at 25. However, you do need to realise that every step you take now - no matter how small - either takes you closer or further away from your goal - there just has to be purpose, and clear-sightedness, in what you do.
There’s absolutely nothing wrong with burning yourself out by 35 in the City and amassing a small fortune - just be aware of why you want that fortune, and the implications of a 60-hour week. Is it worth it? If you have your reasons (‘I want to retire and to travel for the rest of my life’) - all good. If you’re just making - and spending - what you earn, mindlessly, without asking why you’re doing it, a day of reckoning has come. It’s just as short-sighted as someone on £25k spending what they earn every month - the City worker is just spending a lot more, with no goal in sight.
Money in itself is not the ultimate aim when it comes to a career which you love - but it’s a great way to help you get to where you’d like to be. It’s the train ticket to that interview in Manchester for the BBC. It’s making sure you were able to get a decent outfit to wow your boss with before that big meeting. It’s your passport to staying on the right track.
There’s a certain amount of realism that surrounds job success and what it means to you - and it all ties into the wider picture. If you’re a happily-married father of three with a mortgage, your reason for getting out of bed in the morning is to see your family happy and cared for; they become your purpose, and your job - and the money your earn - is the means to provide for them.
However, if you’re 29, single, and working for a company which has no prospects, it’s your responsibility to steer your own ship and get on the right path. Find a company doing what you want to do. Freelance. Become an intern. Retrain. The sooner you start having confidence in yourself, you abilities and your future, the better you’ll feel - and no amount of money can make you feel that way.
The best way to truly feel successful is to step back and evaluate what truly matters to you, long-term - and where you are now. That doesn’t have to be a glittering career in broadcasting or tech - it could be earning enough to buy a little cottage in the country, getting married, and then working for the local Post Office for the rest of your life.
Look at what you’re doing right now, today, this week. Are you on the path to getting a job at Google - is your current role giving you the experience you need? Or are you and your partner both working hard and ensuring you’re putting money towards your dream home and wedding every month?
Develop your prototype. Think what you really want from your career. Spend an evening planning, playing with ideas, and plotting a way forward. Then, along the way, make adjustments. If you need to, scrap your original plan and start again.
There are no rights or wrongs. The only thing that matters is that you're taking small, careful steps towards a job which will make you happy - and you've got the confidence to shift your expectations, wants and needs as your life changes around you, and you head towards your goal.
If you only take away one think from this article, remember these handy tips.
1. All that really matters is that you have a direction - and that every day you’re working towards something which truly matters to you, and will make you happy in the future
2. Knowing your own mind and being able to align your values with what you earn - and what you do - will ensure you’re successful, no matter what your chosen career is
3. What other people think success is, and how they judge themselves, does not apply to you
4. Take small, iterative steps and be prepared to adjust/scrap/bend your plans to where you want to go. Develop a flexible prototype and don't be afraid to change it - nothing should be set in stone!