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The Definition of Career Success and Why it isn’t What Most of us Think

I’ve witnessed time and again people getting the promotion or job they’ve hankered after and tirelessly worked towards, only to hit the trough of disillusionment a while later because their elation, happiness and satisfaction are short lived.

‘I should be feeling great, what’s wrong with me?’; ‘Now what?’; ‘I’m so far off the next level it’s depressing’; ‘Nothing’s really changed,’ are all common complaints and they often come with a healthy dose of ‘I’m just being ungrateful’ self-judgement.

The typical reaction is a self-imposed pressure to chase the next big career goal, in the hope that a subsequent move will fill the gap and secure a more long term sense of satisfaction and success.

But the truth is, the promotion or job itself wasn’t really the end goal; they just thought it was because they tied their idea of success to realising an imagined destination rather than an imagined experience.

Despite accepted wisdom, success is not a situation or destination but a feeling state. The things we often strive for – job title and salary band – don’t bring happiness in and of themselves, as many people with those things and global ‘happiness’ surveys will attest.

Success is about experiencing feeling states that are important to us personally. If your goal is a particular job role, your true marker for success can be revealed by imagining how you’ll feel when you achieve that goal.

Here’s what I mean. Actually imagine for a moment that you are already in the career or job role you crave. Use all of your senses to imagine really being in that place. Then use three adjectives to describe how it feels to be there. Is it excited, engaged, energised and so on?

Then stay on the lookout and seek any experience – work or pleasure – that can be described with those adjectives, acknowledging them when they come up. This exercise can deliver you straight to your sought after success feeling state at any time, without having to wait months or years to achieve the wished-for position that might only deliver it for a short period.

That doesn’t mean you give up on the career goal. It just means you get to experience what success feels like on a regular basis rather than for a short-lived moment sometime in the future.

Give it a go. My clients who start to notice and regularly acknowledge the things that ignite their success feeling state repeatedly report how more of those things seem to show up and that the path to their larger goal feels smoother and easier.

August 5, 2015
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