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Last Updated on November 30, 2021

14 Steps to Achieve Career Success on Your Own Terms

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14 Steps to Achieve Career Success on Your Own Terms

I often hear people say, “I want to be successful, but don’t know where to start” or “I’ve achieved success in my career, yet I’m not happy.” And then I ask, “What does career success mean to you?” And many have a hard time articulating what it really means to achieve career success in life.

It’s common that people lack clarity, focus, and direction, and when you layer on thoughts and actions that are misaligned with your values, this only adds to your misdirected quest to achieve career success.

A word of caution: It’s going to take some time for you to think about and work on your own path for career success. You need to set aside time and be intentional about the steps you take to achieve career success. This guide can help you get started.

1. Define Career Success for Yourself

Pause. Give yourself time and space for self-reflection.

What does career success mean to you?

This is about defining your idea of success. This should not be based on what you think you “should” do, what others want you to do, or the norms you observe around you.

“A flower does not think of competing with the flower next to it. It just blooms.” -Zen Shin

When you strip away all your external influences and manage your inner critic, what are you left with? You need to define the type of success that best suits your life situation. This TED Talk, featuring Alain de Botton, discusses how we can redefine success and go easier on ourselves in the process:

There’s no fixed answer. Successful people are all different. Your answer will evolve and be impacted by life events. Here are a few career success examples:

  • Work-life balance
  • Opportunities for growth and advancement
  • Feeling that contributions have an impact

Now, even as you reflect on the examples above, the descriptions are not specific enough. You’ve got to take it deeper:

  • What do you mean by work-life balance?
  • What do you consider to be opportunities for growth and advancement?
  • How do you like to be recognized for your work? How do you know if your contributions have had an impact?

Let’s take a look at some potential responses to the questions above:

  • I want more time with my family and less stress at work.
  • I want increased responsibilities, to manage a team, a higher income, and the prestige of working at a certain level in the company.
  • I’d like my immediate leader to send me a thank-you note or take me out for coffee to genuinely express her or his gratitude. I’ll know I’ve made an impact if I get feedback from my coworkers, leaders, and other stakeholders.

Further questions to reflect on to help narrow the focus for the above responses include:

  • What are some opportunities that can help you get traction on getting more time with your family? And decrease your stress at work?
  • What’s the most important thing for you in the next 12 months?
  • What’s the significance of receiving others’ feedback?

Now, I’m only scratching the surface with these examples. It takes time to do the inner work and build a solid foundation.

Start this exercise by first asking what it means to achieve career success, and then ask yourself meaningful questions to help you dig deeper.

What types of themes emerge from your responses? What keywords or phrases keep coming up for you?

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2. Know Your Values

Values are the principles and beliefs that guide your decisions, behaviors, and actions. When you’re not aligned with your values and act in a way that conflicts with your beliefs, it’ll feel like life is a struggle, and you may stop learning and growing.

There are simple value exercises that can help you quickly determine your core values[1]. Find any list of values, and write down the top 5 that jump out at you as being personally important.

14 Steps to Achieve Career Success on Your Own Terms

    Once you have your top 5 values, keep them visible. Here are some ways to make them stick:

    • Write them on cue cards or notes and post it in your office.
    • Take a picture of your values and use it as a screensaver on your phone.
    • Put the words on your fridge.
    • Add the words on your vision board.

    Where will your value words be placed in your physical environment so that you have a constant reminder of them?

    For more information on how to identify your values, check out this article.

    3. Define Your Short-Term and Long-Term Goals

    When writing your short-term and long-term life goals, use the SMART framework: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-bound. Treat this as a brainstorming exercise that will point you in the direction of career success. Your potential and possibilities are limitless.

    How you define short-term and long-term is entirely up to you. Short-term can be 30 days, 90 days, or even 6 months. Maybe long-term goals are 4 months, 1 year, or 10 years.

    Here are a few self-reflection questions to help you write your goals[2]:

    • What would you want to do today if you had the power to make it the way you want?
    • If no hurdles were in the way, what would you like to achieve?
    • If you had the freedom to do whatever you want, what would it be?
    • What type of impact do you want to have on people?
    • Who are the people you most admire? What is it about them or what they have that you’d want for your life or career?
    • What activities energize you? What’s one activity you love?

    Get very clear and specific about your goals to achieve career success. Think about an archer. This person is laser-focused on the target, the center of the bullseye. The target is your goal.

    By focusing on one goal at a time and having that goal visible, you can behave and act in ways that will help you solve problems and move you closer to your career goals.

    4. Know your “Why”

    There is a reason why you want to achieve the goals that you’ve set. This reason should always be on your mind if you want to achieve your goal quickly and easily. After writing down your goals on paper, visualize having achieved them. And put your vision on paper. Read the paper every day and review your progress.

    “When you know your why, you’ll know your way” – Michael Hyatt

    Doing this simple exercise will help you stay focused on your organization and career values. The problems that you face every day won’t affect your progress so long as you keep your “why” in mind every time. Remember, every action you take in your career and life has a reason behind it.

    5. Break Tasks into Simple Manageable Steps

    Big tasks and projects are usually overwhelming. That’s why most people avoid getting started until the eleventh hour. And this is a recipe for disaster.

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    Every big project or task is a combination of small simple steps. The best way to manage a big project is to break it down into manageable tasks that you can complete easily. Break yearly projects into monthly tasks. Then do it again until you have simpler daily tasks.

    “Break the unreasonable down into little reasonable chunks, A big goal is only achieved when every little thing that you do every day gets you closer to that goal” – Maren Kate

    Breaking down tasks will improve your focus and help you manage your time effectively because you’ll know precisely what you should do every time.

    6. Find a Mentor

    Another great way to achieve career success on your terms is to find a mentor and ask for advice whenever possible. Finding a good mentor is not an easy task because most people have busy schedules.

    However, you can start by taking the time to familiarize yourself with the working process that they’ve adopted over the years. There will be times when you’ll feel hopeless, and discouraged. It’s better to have someone you trust who’ll remind you why you should keep on keeping on.

    “A mentor is someone who allows you to see the hope inside yourself”- Oprah Winfrey

    A good mentor will motivate you when you are weak and help you deal with obstacles, moments of weakness, and distractions effectively. We all strive to be the best versions of ourselves. But with the distractions present in our environments, it’s hard to stay motivated with our goals consistently. Therefore, you must find a mentor.

    7. Surround Yourself with Like-Minded People

    Since you are the average of the five people you spend most of your time with, you must ensure that their thinking aligns with your career goals. At home or in the workplace, you have to choose your friends wisely.

    “When you have a million-dollar vision, don’t surround yourself with one cent minds” – Ashwani Vishwakarma

    The only way to lift yourself higher is by surrounding yourself with great people. Be on the lookout for toxic people in your career and personal life. And do everything you can to avoid them.

    8. Create a Solid Plan and Take Small Daily Steps

    Creating a solid plan will help you know the steps that you need to take to achieve your career goals. Since you’ve already set your goals and know what actions you should take to achieve them, you need to do something every day that helps you move closer to your goals. Consistency is key.

    “Plan your work for today and every day, then work your plan”- Margaret Thatcher

    You must form the habit of doing something that will help you achieve your goals every day. Start by creating a to-do list and prioritizing your tasks. For things to be easier, have a fixed time to work on your goals. This can be immediately when you wake up or during your most productive time.

    9. Track Your Progress Regularly

    Now that you’ve started working on your goals, you need to evaluate your progress by figuring out what’s working and what’s not.

    You can’t manage what you don’t measure – Peter Drucker

    Start by writing down the actions that you take every day to achieve your goals. Include how you felt about them, how long they took, and whether you can do it better. Then go back and analyze your findings and make necessary adjustments. Some of the best KPIs examples related to your career include:

    • Work success: KPI assessment according to your peers or boss
    • Academic: Academic qualifications that you want to have in future
    • Financial: Bonuses, rewards, and salary
    • Career growth: Promotion speed and time it will take to perform the same function
    • Work-life balance: Flexible working hours and vacation days

    If you are an entrepreneur, your career success and organization are linked. Therefore, you need to establish clear KPIs for your organization. They include the average cost of goods sold, number of monthly deals, employer satisfaction, profit, number of employees, and customer acquisition cost.

    Successful people review their progress every day and plan out what they need to do to achieve their goals. This process helps them stay on track in the long run. Forming this habit is important as it will help you avoid getting distracted during the workday.

    10. Visualize Success

    Change starts internally. You need to have a vision and stay true to it. When you focus on one goal and take action every day, you’ll see it become a reality. Successful people practice visualization every day. While it will take some time before you get used to it, it will pay back in spades.

    When you visualize, then you materialize – Denis Waitley

    To transform your life, you need to change your daily habits. Most people usually underestimate the power of one positive habit. But what we do every day has a huge impact on our lives. If you don’t visualize success, you’ll end up keeping negative behaviors.

    11. Determine Your Top Talents

    What did you love doing as a kid? What made these moments fun? What did you have a knack for? What did you most cherish about these times? What are the common themes?

    What work feels effortless? What work do you do that doesn’t seem like work? Think about work you can lose track of time doing[3].

    What are your desires? Try it out. Experiment. Take action and start. How can you incorporate more of this type of work into your daily life?

    Succeeding in your career requires identifying your talents, especially the talents you want to use on a daily basis to do work that feels meaning. Start paying attention to what you do best.

    12. Identify “Feeling” Words You Want to Experience

    Do you have tendencies to use your head or heart to make decisions?

    I have a very strong tendency to make rational, practical, and fact-based decisions using my head. It’s very rare for me to make decisions using my emotions. I was forced to learn how to make more intuitive decisions by listening to my gut when I was struggling with pivotal life decisions. This was very unfamiliar to me; however, it expanded my self-awareness.

    Review any list of feeling words[4]. Use the same technique you use for the values exercise to narrow down how you want to feel when it comes to career success.

    Keep these words visible, too!

    Review your responses. What do you observe? What insights do you gain from these responses and those in the above steps?

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    13. Be Willing to Sit With Discomfort

    In order to achieve career success, you’ll need to make career decisions aligned with your values, goals, talents, and feelings. This is not for the faint-hearted. It takes real work, courage, and willingness to cut out the noise around you. You’ll need to sit with discomfort for a bit until you build up your muscle to hit the targets you want.

    Surround yourself with a supportive network to help you through these times.

    “These pains you feel are messengers. Listen to them.” -Rumi

    14. Cultivate Positive Emotions

    While many assume career success leads to happiness, the alternative may actually be more accurate. One study found that “evidence continues to persuasively suggest that happiness is correlated with and often precedes career success and that experimentally enhancing positive emotions leads to improved outcomes in the workplace”[5].

    What does this mean for your career?

    Instead of seeking happiness purely from whether or not you achieve career success, find other ways to cultivate positive emotions in your life, as this will ultimately aid you in finding that success. Engage in your favorite hobby, try meditation, or spend time with good friends and family.

    Do what makes you feel good, and you’ll find career success comes more easily.

    If you want to learn more about how to develop positivity, you can check out this article: How to Practice Positive Thinking And Change Your Life.

    The Bottom Line

    For many who have gone through a career change or been impacted by life events, these steps may seem very basic. However, it’s sometimes the basics that we forget to do. The simple things and moments can edge us closer to our larger vision for ourselves.

    Staying present and appreciating what you have today can sometimes help you achieve your long-term goals.

    Remember to take time for yourself. Hit pause, notice, observe, and reflect to achieve career success by getting deliberate and intentional.

    “When you stop chasing the wrong things, you give the right things a chance to catch you.” -Lolly Daskal

    More on How to Achieve Career Success

    Featured photo credit: Brooke Cagle via unsplash.com


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    Ami Au-Yeung

    Workplace Strategist | Career Coach | Workshop Facilitator | Writer | Speaker | Past Business Professor

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