When you think of what career success means, what comes to mind? The obvious answers are promotions, getting to a specific salary range, or even starting your own thriving company. But, what about when you came in second place for a job you wanted? Or when you’re feeling uninspired and bored at work? What does success look like then?
Often, we’re so focused on the big wins that, when we fall short of them, we can’t appreciate the small achievements. Or, worse, when we fail at something, we immediately beat ourselves up and might even feel further away than ever from that elusive “success” we are trying to chase.
Is this doing us any favors, though? No.
When you experience something that feels like a failure, it’s okay to grieve a little bit and take some time to process everything. While you’re doing that, however, it’s also essential to look at the bigger picture. What are you doing right professionally? What has gone according to plan this week? Where has your effort made some kind of positive impact, no matter how big or small?
Big success is hard to find. If it weren’t, people wouldn’t be chasing it so hard for so long. And, there’s nothing that makes you feel further from it than when you’ve failed. So, how do you look for, let alone find, success in these moments?
Success is Not One-Size-Fits-All
Everyone’s career is different, so it shouldn’t come as a shock that success does not have a singular definition or “look.” What you consider success is probably wildly different from the person in the office next to you. Honestly, if you were to sit down with a peer at work and ask them their career goals and what they would define as professional success, your visions would most likely vary to some degree.
Here are some examples of what might be considered career successes:
Landing a job that allows for a healthy work-life integration, even though it means taking a salary cut
Transitioning into a role that is more aligned with someone’s strengths and interests but requires them to start over on their promotion track
Working for a global organization and collaborating with people from all over the world
Being promoted to a C-Level position
Having the privilege to scale back and work part-time
It’s important to remember, especially in those moments of failure, that you get to define what success is for you. Traditional success is undoubtedly lovely, but so are the small ones if you pay attention to them. Not to mention, they’re often essential to helping you reach your big goal.
Things That Can Boost Success
You have your image of what true career success looks like for you, but it just always seems to be out of reach. So, what can you do? In this situation, it might be best to take a step back and look at what you could improve on a larger scale to help you get closer to your goal. Even if you think you’re set and have been successful in some small steps, revisit them. Can you become even more successful? Or, are there some other minor things you can do to improve your chances of reaching your version of success? Here are some ideas.
As a professional, you already know that networking is essential, and yours may already be pretty broad. It is great, but there is always room for more (unless you’re already professionally connected to the more than seven billion people on this planet). You know all the steps to take to reach new people, so this will be easy for you. Just remember to look at every new connection as a bit of success.
Depending on where you are in your career, you can either find a mentor or serve as one yourself. The benefits of finding one, especially when you’re struggling to accomplish your big goals, are obvious: you’ll have someone with more experience and knowledge there to help you navigate this difficult stretch (and hopefully even beyond). However, becoming a mentor may seem like a strange move when you’re still trying to bounce back from a failure, but it’s a great way to regain some of your confidence. You’ll get to work closely with someone who may have a different perspective from you, and that may be what you need to get over a slump. Plus, you get to help someone as a mentor, which is just a nice feeling to have.
Believe it or not, failing can help you get closer to success, too. While you might feel like you’re further than ever from what you’re hoping to achieve, failures allow you to take a step back and evaluate what’s going on. Look at the situation up close and ask yourself what is stopping you from reaching this milestone and if it is something you can improve. Failure also humbles you a bit, especially if professional success usually comes pretty easy. Finally, failure forces you to try something different that you may not have considered before, whether it’s submitting an application at a job at another company or approaching a project from a different angle, and you may end up becoming more successful because of it.
Education, Training, and Trying New Things
It never hurts to add a new skill, certificate, or experience to your resume, and it may end up being the thing that pushes you past the roadblock you’re facing right now.
So, as you cope with a recent setback or failure, shift your thoughts a bit and think about something you’d be interested in learning more about or trying. Instead, look into ways you try something new. Whether it’s through a continuing education class, a professional training course, or a leisurely activity at your local art center—you’ll never know who you can network with within the class. If nothing else, this move can help you focus on a new, attainable goal and rebuild your confidence for when you’re ready to give your big one another shot.
Career setbacks are tough, but they’re a part of almost every professional journey, and even if you get past this one, there will likely be another one at some point down the road. The best thing you can do is prepare yourself and plan out some things to help you bounce back quicker next time. An excellent way to do this is simply by creating an ongoing list of professional goals that you can change up as often as you want. You can (and should) include the big successes you’re hoping to reach. Still, this plan should also have several small and medium-sized ones, too, because those are going to be the ones that feel attainable when you’re dealing with a setback and help you regain your confidence.
You get to define what success looks like for you. Just remember you may stumble upon it disguised as failure.
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