How You Define Success Matters, in Your Professional and Personal Life

by Amy Steinberg Published Jun 12, 2018 Last updated Jun 12, 2018

There are so many metrics by which people judge their own success. A generic definition of success is a “favorable or desired outcome,” according to Merriam-Webster, which means it makes sense that most people wish to achieve success. However, achieving it is a more complex task than it would seem when simply thinking that it will fulfill one’s desires.

Having a steady job with a substantial income is one way to judge success, and others see that they have ‘made it’ when they acquire the home, vehicle, or vacations that they feel are markers of success. These definitions, however, have a darker side: when this somewhat arbitrary metric is not met, it can feel like your life has been a failure. This doesn’t have to be the case. Creating a flexible and multi-faceted definition of success is key to being resilient in the face of small setbacks.

The truth is that success is made up of a combination of factors and overvaluing any one factor is likely to result in disillusionment. Being unhappy because of supposed “failure” can lead to less and less chance of success in other aspects of your life, celebrating whatever metrics of success you are achieving is important. These small victories help you to feel the inspiration to tackle the aspects of success that are still out of reach, pushing yourself to gain what you want.

Choosing Definitions of Success

Wealth, Income, and Comfort

This metric is quite obvious, and perhaps the aspect most discussed when talking about success. Certainly, people can draw feelings of success from their amassed wealth and the income they command. However, putting a specific number on your success is a less valuable way to count success, since not reaching that goal will leave you stuck. Consider these markers of success instead:

  • Am I saving as responsibly as I can right now, to build wealth?
  • Am I satisfied with the quality of life that my income affords? If not, am I exploring options for increasing that income?
  • Have I discussed and negotiated with my company to come to a reasonable salary package?

Making these concrete steps can allow you to see yourself as successful because of what you’ve chosen to do, rather than because of a number that has worked out for you. Since expenses can vary wildly, wealth and income can look very different for different individuals and still indicate great success. On the other hand, if you are quite unhappy and uninspired in your career but making a large amount of money, you may feel compelled to stay with that career path because it meets this narrow definition of success. Life is too short to remain indefinitely in uninspired work when a more comprehensive kind of success is possible.

Involvement in Your Passions

A major part of success is how much time or energy you get to spend on your passions. For many, these passions are the reason they pursue the work they do, but few careers involve only tasks we are passionate about. Instead of judging your career based solely on this amount of time spent on passion, think also of the flexibility it offers you to spend time on your passions outside of work. A career mixed with passionate work and free time for what you love may be providing you with excellent success.

Time for Meaningful Relationships

Outside or inside of work, many of us find our greatest meaning in life through our relationships with other people: family, friendships, romantic relationships, or even helping relationships. Whether your work itself offers you time for these relationships or your work offers you the freedom to pursue them in your off hours, this can be a major marker of success. A meaningful life is usually lived in some kind of community, bringing purpose and depth. These relationships add value to even the smallest tasks, which helps us get through the times when our work is physically or emotionally demanding.

Impactful Work

Along the same lines, one other metric of success is the impact of your work. While not everyone works in a non-profit with a very specific “helping people” mission, most people can identify parts of their job that contribute to the happiness or well-being of others. Noticing these aspects and celebrating them can increase job satisfaction and can also help you make priorities for the future in your career.

Inspirational Work

At BioBridges, we believe in inspiring work. Your work should help you to pursue all the things you find most valuable in life, which means combining the above definitions of success rather than just focusing on one of them. Recognizing that inspiring work is within your reach is one of the first steps to success in this aspect.

Success When You are Changing Directions

The truth is that careers don’t experience one continuous success point. Instead, success arrives at various points and sometimes departs when unavoidable life circumstances change our work. Rather than hoping for and expecting a single, uninterrupted “successful career,” it is valuable to realize that one marker of success is being able to recognize when you need a change in direction.

At BioBridges, we believe that the career trajectory has more turns and twists than most people realize, this is both normal and sometimes essential to getting to the next level. There is the possibility that success for you requires a wider search for work that will inspire and challenge you. To learn more, contact us.