Defining success at work

defining success at work

The conventional definition of success that most of us would trot out focuses on career progression, wealth, and status. But what happens when you have achieved those things and you’re not feeling successful, or if achieving that type of success comes at too high a cost? And is that definition even one that you aspire to? How are you defining success at work?

An alternative definition of success is “the accomplishment of an aim or a purpose”. And that’s very empowering: we get to decide what that ‘aim or purpose’ is. The problem is that most of us haven’t taken the time to do so. So that really is the first port of call: designing your particular vision, defining your objectives, and getting clarity on what’s important to you.

Defining success at work

Have you ever stopped to think what your core aim is, as you start your working week every Monday, as you sit down at your desk every morning? What’s your end goal? What are you trying to achieve? How would you answer how do you define success?

It’s the kind of thing a hiring manager might ask you as part of their interview questions. Or it might be something that the company has enshrined in a formal mission statement.

A potential employer might expect an answer along the lines of striving for perfection, being results-driven, improving the lives of customers as we used to say, back in my corporate days. In the day-to-day, the immediate goal you’re focusing on is to prepare a presentation, finish a project, meet a deadline. Taking a step back, you might say that the personal goal is simply to earn a living.

But are there other more meaningful goals that are driving you, that will determine whether or not you feel successful? Let’s look at a few alternatives…

  • Learning and growth

When we start a new job, the learning curve is steep and we eagerly absorb new information and learn new skills. That learning curve soon flattens, however, and it’s easy to get stuck in a comfort zone where we’ve stopped challenging ourselves. What internal or external training can you enrol in, what new projects can you take on, and how can you keep upskilling so that work remains interesting while you also build your career capital for future roles?

  • Making an impact

We all leave school, university, hoping to make a difference in the world. Most of us, however, end up in careers where that impact is not so obvious. And that’s okay – the fact that you’re not working in a charity or an NGO doesn’t mean that you’re not doing important work. What kind of an impact can you make with the products and services that your company develops? Or on your immediate team or the broader organisation?

  • Taking care of your people

Speaking of team, perhaps you’re a born leader, devoted to your team and more motivated by your people doing well and achieving their team goals than you are by simply achieving your own personal objectives. What are their motivations? What are their personal and professional objectives? How do they define success, and how might you help them with defining success at work?

  • Personal goals

It’s not just what happens at work that matters when it comes to your success. What are your goals for the other areas of your life, and how can work enable (or hinder) your success there? This will include financial and lifestyle goals, that is, is your income supporting the lifestyle you want but not just the income, is your work-life balance allowing you to live that lifestyle?

  • Being a role model

And what about being an inspiring role model for younger team members, or for your children at home? Are you proud of what you’re achieving at work? Are you being the leader and the professional that you would want others to aspire to be? Are you helping them learn how to behave, how to view success for themselves, and how to value and prioritise the ‘right’ things?

What else is driving you? How are you defining success at work?

The good news is that there is no wrong answer here. You get to decide what your ‘aim or purpose’ is, how you are defining success at work (and at home). It’s not something that a current or potential employer can or should be giving you. And your answer can, and will, evolve.

So what does success look like for you?

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