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Last Updated on November 27, 2020

7 Steps to Achieve Career Success on Your Own Terms

7 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 this. 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:

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  • 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?

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.

Use values to achieve career success.

    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?

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    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. 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.

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    5. 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?

    6. 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

    7. 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?

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    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

    Reference

    More by this author

    Ami Au-Yeung

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

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    1 7 Steps to Achieve Career Success on Your Own Terms 2 How to Change Careers Successfully When It Seems too Late 3 What to Do When You Hate Your Job and Need a Change 4 How to Get Promoted When You Feel Stuck in Your Current Position

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    Last Updated on November 26, 2020

    How to Change Careers Successfully When It Seems too Late

    How to Change Careers Successfully When It Seems too Late

    The wake-up call often comes when you least expect it. Maybe you’re enjoying a relaxing get-together with your old college buddies when someone turns to you and says, “Wow, I never thought you’d become an investment banker. I always thought you’d write a novel!” If this leaves you wondering how to change careers, you’re not alone.

    Before you know it, you find yourself remembering your old dreams—and comparing them to the career field where you are now. Life rarely goes according to plan. Marriage, kids, and grandkids often come earlier than imagined—or later.

    Maybe you pursued one career path because you were considered the breadwinner, but now someone else in the family is the breadwinner. Conversely, maybe you landed a job, thinking you’d stay for six months, and now you’ve been there for sixteen years.

    A recent report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics pointed out that “baby boomers held an average of 12.3 jobs from ages 18 to 52″[1]. For millennials, who are more technologically apt, that number is likely to be much higher.

    As this proves, it’s perfectly normal to change careers and begin a job search even when it seems too late! Steering your way through a career change is part calculation, part chance, and part leap-of-faith.

    If you feel stuck and are ready for a career change, take these steps to guide you.

    Step 1: Be Mentally Prepared

    These points can help you master the psychological aspects of a career change at any age.

    Now or Never Is a Fallacy

    For most professionals, there is no cut-off age for striking out in a new direction. People do it at all stages of their careers.

    If you’ve ever dreamed of leaving a large company to start your own business, you are not alone. Similarly, thousands of entrepreneurs and people working for one-man shops decide each year that they’d like to work for larger organizations.

    You’ll find hordes of baby boomers looking for a redo alongside mobs of GenXers and Millennials—especially as the boomers now remain in the workforce longer than their predecessors.

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    Your Career Is not a Straight Line From A to B

    You don’t have to have your career trajectory completely decided from the start. In fact, that’s an unrealistic expectation, no matter how methodical you are.

    People change. Industries merge, morph, and in some cases, disappear. Careers rarely follow the straight and narrow.

    Many careers can be compared to journeys—there are the adventurous patches, boring patches, downright scary patches, and the hills and valleys, too. The trick is to try to have a little fun while you’re charting out your various careers.

    Don’t panic if you find you need to change your career. It may take some work as you sort through job posts, write cover letters, and pursue your dream job, but you’re up for it.

    Career Changers Are Among Good Company

    Consider these well-known trailblazers whose careers took a radical turn:

    Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon.com, studied computer science and electrical engineering at Princeton, went on to establish himself as a Wall Street prodigy, then quit to launch Amazon.com.

    Sara Blakely, a billionaire businesswoman, was a fax machine salesperson before creating her signature slim wear line, Spanx.

    Jonah Peretti, co-founder of the media sites Huffington Post and BuzzFeed, initially taught computer science to middle schoolers.

    Be Ready to Take on the Naysayers

    Expect plenty of advice—usually of the discouraging kind—from friends and family when they learn that you’re exploring a career change. Those you know best are often the most vocal in trying to thwart your plans.

    Be prepared to field a flurry of pessimistic conjecture and doomsday scenarios. Know, though, that when your loved ones question your judgment, they’re not necessarily doubting your talent but trying to look out for your wellbeing. Stepping out of your comfort zone will make anyone close to you uncomfortable.

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    Keep in mind that pessimists avoid the unknown, while optimists invite new challenges. Above all, believe in yourself and follow your instincts. Don’t let your fear of change paralyze you from seeking out your new career path.

    Project an aura of enthusiasm, energy, and passion. You’ll find it’s contagious.

    Step 2: Be Proactive

    These tips can help you master the practical aspects of changing careers at any age.

    Take Baby Steps

    Ease into your new direction. Start building the skills you’ll need to make the switch.

    Find out what skills you will need, and do whatever it takes to add them to your skills arsenal. Make the time to invest in additional training.

    Start by devoting a half-day each week to your new pursuit until you’re ready to confidently make a move.

    Clearly define where you want to go and what you’ll need to do to get there. Take an inventory of your strengths. Read trade magazines, and study up on industry trends.

    Volunteer

    Charitable organizations are often looking for volunteers to help them with their outreach, social media, and engagement. You can show up without the requisite skills and learn as you go in a fun, convivial, low-pressure environment, which will help you expand your experience and skills.

    Take Online Courses

    Today, LinkedIn and many other providers offer online courses in everything from accounting software to time management to mastering Excel. For extra credit, see if you can find classes that award online badges for completing each course.

    Don’t be shy about adding these certificates to your online profile. Keep your profile fresh by adding more and more skills to it.

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    Take a Temp Job

    Depending on your field, it may be possible to freelance at a company where you learn on the job.

    Remember that you can’t just show up at a potential employer’s claiming you have the skills. Taking a temporary job that allows you to polish your skills is proof that you’re serious about your career change.

    Network!

    Build a family tree of contacts. Explore beyond the main branches of your work acquaintances, industry groups, and social contacts. Join your alumni organization. Tell everyone.

    Ask friends and friends-of-friends to meet you for coffee to explain what it is they do and tell you which skills you’ll need to succeed in your chosen field[2].

    When you want to learn how to change careers, start by networking!

      If you have friends or associates with ties to the organizations where you want to work, ask your contacts to make an introduction. The majority of today’s jobs are found through one’s own networks. When jobs open up, companies invite informal recommendations from internal and external channels.

      Step 3: Take It Online

      This last step can help you master the online aspects of a career change at any age.

      Develop an Online Presence in the Field of Your Dreams

      Reconfiguring your online presence will be a critical step in your career change. Fine-tune your digital identity to reflect your new direction, tailoring your profile to the role and industry you’re after. Include keywords that are relevant to the industry so that recruiters can find you.

      Craft a clever personal statement that states your interests, your values, and your dreams. Once you’ve zeroed in on your message, also pick and choose which outlets make the most sense for it.

      Will your personal statement resonate on LinkedIn? Or is it highly visual—making it a better fit for Instagram?

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      Polish your sites until they gleam, then get active so others take notice. Add insightful content to your social media pages that goes deeper than the information on your resume, such as commentaries on something taking place in your newly chosen field.

      For more on how to build an online presence, check out this article.

      Final Thoughts

      Americans spend 1,800 hours or more each year working. That’s nearly one-third of your life, and it goes without saying that your job satisfaction and career goals have a great bearing on your life’s happiness barometer.

      Set out to intentionally pursue career satisfaction, looking for opportunities to fine-tune your working life so that you find fulfillment.

      If playing the piano is your personal bliss, could you meld your love of music with your clinical psychology background and find a job using music to promote healing? Perhaps there’s a foundation that would fund you in a multiyear study.

      Or, if you’re a movie buff for whom every encounter has the makings of a screenplay, why not sign up for an evening class and see if your years of writing advertising copy could morph into a career move into the film industry?

      Achieving your career change successfully will occur when you mentally prepare, take a proactive approach, and mine your personal and online networks. The pay-off will be in a life well-lived in a successful career.

      More Tips on How to Change Careers

      Featured photo credit: Jason Strull via unsplash.com

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