What does success mean to you, and when was the last time you revisited your definition of it?
If you’re like millions of others, you may be considering an exit from your current professional role. But, before making a big leap, how can we be confident we’ll end up in a better place than where we are now?
To do so, we need to carefully consider what “better” means to us, beginning with revisiting our definition of success, because defining success incorrectly can hurt us.
In re-evaluating our definition of success, we need to acknowledge the tensions we hold within ourselves. There are often unresolved feelings and a desire for something different, greater, better, more. But is this “more” tied to money, power, and prestige, or something else?
As humans, we often feel tensions between what we “ought to be,” “want to be,” and “actually are.” When our daily lives aren’t in alignment with our desires, values, and greater purpose, these tensions can increase to the point where we feel like a rope that is about to snap.
“The need for meaning and purpose is humans’ No. 1 psychological need. It’s the deepest driver of well-being there is,” according to Dr. Alan Rozanski, professor of medicine at Mount Sinai. Individuals who feel a sense of purpose and meaning in their life are at reduced risk of mortality and cardiovascular disease. Those without a feeling of purpose are two times as likely to die early regardless of income, gender, race, or education.
Resolving this tautness begins with introspection regarding what is important to us, and determining how to realize it on our own terms. Not using someone else’s definition of success, but rather our own.
Debunking myths and changing mindsets
So how do we move forward? What is the first step in shifting from discontent to awakening to meaningful success? It’s time to let go of antiquated perspectives of success and dispel myths that might create unnecessary barriers to the path of fulfillment we crave.
Myth 1: I can’t achieve financial success and have career happiness as well.
You can attain a job that provides both fulfillment and is financially viable, but the role needs to leverage your strengths and align with your values. Consider a first step of developing a personal mission statement that also describes the life you want.
Ask yourself what is important to you, what you desire, and why. What might a life where you place these pieces front and center look like?
When we compare the answers to these questions to our current reality, it allows us to set a direction for positive change, and identify those key tensions we need to resolve to achieve our aims. Factoring in personal financial requirements simply adds a lens when considering viable options, but doesn’t need to be hindering.
Myth 2: I can’t stay in my current role and feel fulfilled.
Consider job crafting. Assuming your purpose and values align with that of your employer, think about projects, tasks, and structures that would make your current role feel more meaningful to you. With careful discernment, we can leverage a wide variety of roles as we accel in our career. It’s important to understand we can find fulfillment in many professional constructs if we are first clear on what matters most to us.
Myth 3: I don’t have the knowledge, skills, or connections to do what I want.
As we define meaningful success and think about setting an aspirational course, our head can get in our way. “I can’t do that because I don’t have an advanced degree,” or, “I can’t start a SaaS company that would fulfill a critical unmet need because I don’t have a deep enough background in technology or the right network.”
What might not seem feasible at first might be possible by amplifying your current abilities through connection with others. Many entrepreneurs don’t have all the skills necessary to launch, grow, and scale their companies on day one. But, through finding others with complementary expertise and focused outreach, what may have seemed improbable can be achieved.
Experimentation and support system
Once we’ve defined what success means to us and have dispelled myths that may have been holding us back, it’s time to experiment.
While we might anticipate and wish that progress would be linear, it is often more of a spiral: cycles of experimentation and learning. Getting from our current reality to our desired destination takes a series of intentional actions and, often, support from others.
What can be hard to accomplish on one’s own becomes easier and often more manageable with the engagement of a friend, mentor, or coach to help build momentum and foster accountability. Clearly set your intentions for progress and remember that seemingly small steps over time can result in big changes.
Success redefined and actualized
We all have more career possibilities than we think. Once we’ve reflected on what’s truly important to our lives and redefined our meaning of success, it’s easier to create the right opportunities to realize it. If you don’t know what you’re aiming for, it’s hard to hit your target.
Your ability to achieve something “more” might lie within your current role, an adjacent role, or it might mean making a big change. However, make sure you’re clear on what you really desire, what is meaningful to you, and then experiment, iterate, and experiment some more.
Consistent movement over time will lead to the future you aspire to.