Everyone who has a professional career at some point wonders how they’re doing. How they measure up. Whether or not they’re on the right track. That includes me, who has had the most meandering and untraditional career path one could imagine: music school > non profit work > corporate communications > independent consulting > working for a startup > building a business.
Often, I’m asked what constitutes “success” for me. In other words, what factors do I look at and consider when I’m determining whether I’m doing what I want to be doing (and whether it’s time to make a change). My list is far more qualitative than quantitative, but perhaps you’ll find a few things in here that resonate with you, and that you can use to keep a pulse on whether your professional work is headed in the direction you want.
It’s not the most important thing to me, it just happened to be the most obvious. Compensation to me isn’t about just earning a massive salary either. It’s about things like good benefits, vacation or personal time, stock options, bonus programs, and the ability to pursue side projects or other pursuits. Everyone views money differently.
For me it’s a means to a particular lifestyle, and I walked away from a well-paying executive job and a promising future path at that company to basically have no salary and use my savings to help fund a fledgling business. Money is simply an enabler of other things. You have to decide what it drives for you.
I don’t want to go to an office or commute anymore. I want to be able to work from wherever I am, and adapt my hours around things like my kid’s school activities or a visit from my dad. I also seek a large degree of autonomy on my projects. Give me a goal, hold me accountable to it, and set me loose to get there.
Mind you that kind of trust is earned and not bestowed on a rookie just out of college with no track record. But at this point in my career, I believe I have enough proof points for success to warrant having some freedom on my projects and schedule, because I always deliver. (This is also another reason why I work for myself).
Everyone has goals of some kind. For you it might be to aspire to a particular title or role in your company, or in a professional organization you belong to. Maybe it’s to get published in a prestigious publication or to write a book. Or to complete a large and significant research project that can change the way something is done.
I aspire, for example, to write another book or two, and to eventually earn a spot on the big TED stage to present an Idea Worth Spreading. I also aspire to build SideraWorks into a thriving, innovative consulting company that really does tackle the hard work. Hey. Aim High.
4. Life Balance
I’m not sure I believe in true work-life balance. But does your work afford you the kind of lifestyle that balances it inasmuch as it makes you happy? Can you pursue non-work things that give you joy? Spend time on hobbies or on your porch or whatever you want to do without the constant feeling that your job is going to suffer if you do those things? I think finding a balance – whatever you can live with – is really important.
5. Passion Projects
Do you get to work on things that not only serve a role in a company and an ultimate goal for that company, but do you have the freedom to also pursue projects that support your values, ideals, aspirations, causes, or wild and crazy ideas? I want my work to give me a little bit of crazy rope to use now and again to dream up the unimaginable.
6. Relationship Development
Are you forging a strong network of people that compliment or augment your strengths and help mitigate your weaknesses? Is “networking” useful for you personally as well as something that the company demands you do? Are you meeting and connecting with people that are changing your life for the better, be they a mentor or a boss or a mentee or great friends or champions of causes and initiatives that excite you?
Can you change course when you need to in order to respond to opportunities? Are you bound to someone else’s roadmap, or can you draw your own to some extent (or at least have some input? When the circumstances around you change, are you trusted enough or unburdened enough to pay attention and pivot when you need to?
Make my brain work! I’m never quite happy until I’m teetering on the edge of my comfort zone, as much as I might whine about being terrified and overwhelmed. Are you pushed or allowed outside your comfort zone on occasion, enough to grow and learn different things? I want to know that I’m being handed the toughest problems, and creating extraordinary value for someone by solving them.
Stagnation is the enemy of progress and the roadblock in the pursuit of passion and dreams. Never be stagnant.
In short, do you feel like your consistently moving forward, even in small steps? Can you always see that there’s something ahead of you, even if it’s blurry as all hell? Did I mention how much stagnation sucks?
What you should never measure against?
Someone else. Run your own race. Everyone’s circumstances and context are different, and you can drive yourself in circles comparing yourself to other people.
We’ll all fall in the trap once in a while of a little envy or jealousy or aspiration to what someone else has achieved but the choice in that moment is simple: make it a goal to do something comparable yourself and go after it like crazy, or realize it’s a good thing for them but that it’s not the right thing for you.
Success and failure are wildly subjective ideas, and only you know what yours means to you.
What are you keeping your eye on?