What is the definition of success? What would it look like for you to be successful right now? How about in 10 years? Are both(or either) of those different from how you would have defined success 10 years ago? Hopefully you’re able to answer each of those questions. Meaning, you know what you want, you have always known, and likely you’re OK with admitting that it has (and will continue to) change over the course of time as you ebb and flow. How I define success has absolutely changed over the years, and I expect it will continue to. I started out defining it by money. Over time success was measured in responsibilities assigned followed by hours worked. Then I measured it in autonomy and skills of my team. Now it looks like modeling healthy work and life balance with my family and team. It looks like having work that lights me up and inspires me for more. The list continues but you get the idea. Like I said before, its more about knowing what it means for you, acknowledging the shift, and then knowing what steps to take to get there.
Let’s take an example for this. Chasing Success Chad worked an office job for years. He knew his job well and had even been promoted once or twice for working with increasing complex matters within the same basic job function. When asked about his career and planning he was content in his success and wanted to continue to progress. After a few years he hadn’t gotten a promotion and didn’t see anything coming down the line. Chad was getting frustrated so he looked and found a job with another company where he could do something similar but different from what he had been doing. He was excited for what the new skills could teach him but honestly didn’t have any idea how it would go. Chad’s supervisor at the time started to talk about the importance of having leadership background and while it hadn’t occurred to him to be a supervisor after some time he started to believe that this was required to be successful in this new company. Because he wasn’t particularly drawn to supervision he hadn’t really worked on developing that skill but when an opportunity within the department came up to supervise, he did not want to miss out. Chad ended up getting the promotion to supervisor and while he poured his heart and soul into the work, he just couldn’t shake that this was not what success was meant to look like for him. It took years of stress and turbulence for Chad personally and for his team, for him to realize this wasn’t the right fit for him. After realizing that he went back to the drawing board, what was it all those years ago that made him feel successful in his first few positions? Once he understood that he could find the right job to apply for and while it was technically considered a ‘demotion’ it helped him to get closer to his version of success and he continues to to this day.
I really love Chad’s story. It is a mix of a cautionary tale but with a twist for the positive in the end. Chad made some mistakes, he didn’t understand his version of success so he couldn’t pursue that with any purpose. He knew he wanted to ‘be successful’ so with no plan of his own he jumped at the first one someone else laid out for him. To no surprise, this was not the right fit for him. Because it wasn’t the right fit for him (he wasn’t interested and that wasn’t the skill set he had) he was making himself and his team miserable. But then, as it typically does, change comes from pain. Chad was able to reflect, be objective with himself, and take action that made sense to move him toward success, as defined by Chad.
It pains me to think of all the time and frustration that could have been avoided if Chad would have understood that he should define success before chasing it down. It is comforting to know that you can still right the ship even after years of going in a direction that doesn’t work for you but still, it doesn’t have to be that way. Imagine if Chad had an idea of what he wanted and created his plan around that? Imagine if his manager or mentor had asked him what he wanted to do to determine if leading people was the right next step? Imagine if they would have coached him into the supervisor role rather than just tossing him in and hoping for the best?
If you’re feeling stuck in what you thought was the ‘next right step’ or in someone else’s definition of success, it’s not too late for you either. You need only determine what that means for you and create a plan to get you there. Then go for it. Keep in mind that success can be measured in money, time, stuff, vacations, ability to focus your efforts on _______, being known as the one who can fix anything, being left on your own because you’re self sufficient, or any host of other standards that you pick. Then, talk to your mentor, do your research, and build your plan on how you’ll get there. It might be a series of promotions. It might be setting boundaries around where you’re already at. It might be a change so scary that you’ve known the answer and have been avoiding it for years. Once you know the next steps just take the next right step for you, then the next one. I promise it will be better in the end than following someone else’s dream.