People often ask, “What are the things I need to do to ensure that my career will be successful? What training or development activities will make a difference? Will an MBA degree guarantee my success?” If you visit a book store, you will find complete rows of books on this subject. Everyone wants that “silver bullet” that will guarantee that they achieve career success and ultimate happiness or fulfillment. What is the answer?
To me, a career has many pieces… very much like a jigsaw puzzle. You remember jigsaw puzzles, right? There is only one piece that will perfectly fit each spot. Many of the pieces look the same, but only one will work. Each piece is unique. No two people have the same “method” for completing a puzzle. Our careers are very much like this with many pieces being available. Some of these pieces include:
- Training programs or courses
- Good bosses
- Bad bosses
- Project assignments
- Finding a new job
- Conferences and seminars
- Self-taught activities
- Keen observation of behaviors
- Successes and failures
All of these pieces work together to create the perfect you. No one is exactly like you. No one else has the same combination of education, experience, skills, abilities, personality, drive, and motivation that you do. So, is there any “formula” or “key list” of things common to all successful people? Once again, no two people would have the same things on such a list. Take it for what it is worth — some of this may become a piece in your own career jigsaw puzzle. Before starting, however, it is important to define exactly what career “success” looks like. To some, success equates to a title, salary, and office with a view. I contend that career success is essentially equal to career fulfillment. Being satisfied or fulfilled in your career, work, or life defines success – not a title, salary, or office location. If you chase a title, you are destined to be disappointed. Chasing a salary can drive you to make poor long-term decisions. Chasing fulfillment, however, has no downside. So, here is my list of six components that, if done consistently, are guaranteed to result in what you will deem a “successful career.”
Six Key Components to Career Success (e.g., Fulfillment)
(Note: Career Success = Career Fulfillment… success cannot be defined in terms of title, salary, or responsibilities, but as a measure of fulfillment in your own life)
- Relationships – Career fulfillment always begins with those essential relationships we build. Nothing is more important in a fulfilling career. Who could possibly say that their career was fulfilling if they did not develop life-long friendships along the way? Relationships are also important in growing our careers. A significant percentage of individuals hired and/or promoted can attribute this to a direct or indirect relationship. Relationships drive many business transactions, can make the difference in whether or not you make the deal, can define how successfully an inspection goes, and on-and-on. Relationships are vital for our success and critical to our overall happiness. Take the time to care for others and nurture those friendships you have!
- Intentionality – Many individuals I know have gotten to the end of their careers and had many regrets. They regretted not taking career risks. They regretted waiting when they should have charged forward. They regretted not using their skills, not connecting with others, and, simply, not doing more to manage their careers. They saw others get the promotion or the big assignment they wanted and wondered why they were not the choice. Much of what we gain in our careers is because we were willing to step out and take risks. Taking action when others were unwilling often makes the difference. We must be intentional about identifying important career steps and charging forward to grab the brass ring. Don’t get to the end of your career and regret not being more active, taking more initiative, or doing more.
- Value – Individuals that have the most fulfillment in their careers are ones that learn the importance of “value.” Value can be defined as creating benefits for a reasonable cost. When you learn that the company most cherishes employees that can discern how to provide value, your career will take an entirely different turn. When you learn to seek value, you become one that provides a return on investment that cannot be ignored. A person that understands value, does not waste time or resources; gets to the point quickly; does not major on the minors; and drives toward results, not activity. In another sense, you gain career fulfillment when you learn to add value to the lives of others. You become a “giver” not a “taker”. You seek ways to make a positive difference for others. You look for ways to turn a bad day into a good one for others. When you live in a way in which you intentionally (there that word is again… intentional) seek to add value to the lives of others, you gain fulfillment that exceeds anything your actual job can provide.
- Excellence – You automatically increase the fulfillment you get from your career when you become an individual that constantly seeks excellence in everything. Colin Powell once said, “If you are going to achieve excellence in the big things, you develop the habit in little matters.” When you can consistently say to yourself when you walk to your car at the end of each day that you have done your best in all matters, you have achieve an attitude of excellence. When you become known as the individual that will always complete the work on time, in an high quality manner, and with no drama, your career will advance and you will gain a sense of fulfillment that goes beyond those tangible benefits you might receive.
- Return the favor – You will never look back on your career with fulfillment unless you took the time to return the favor. Most of the individuals I know that volunteer to serve as mentors do so because someone took the time to mentor them earlier in their career. When you pass along those things you have learned and share the positive (and negative) experiences you have lived, you pour yourself into the life or career of another. When you volunteer your time to better the life or career of another, you are paying back all those that took the time to make your career successful and better.
- Serve – Few things in life provide more fulfillment and satisfaction than serving others. By putting others first, you demonstrate a level of leadership and sacrifice that can erase many feelings of career stagnation. When you feel that your career is not moving as you desire, begin serving others and see what difference it makes. When you put yourself on the line to make a difference for others, there are returns that cannot be measured by dollars, titles, or anything else. If you adopt an attitude of service, the details of your career will take care of themselves.
There you have it. If you do all six of these well and consistently, I guarantee you will find fulfillment in your career. (Yes, I give you my personal guarantee that this is true!) These six items, if done well, can yield RIVERS (an acrostic for each of the points) of satisfaction and achievement. To put it another way, someone once said the following of excellence (but, I have changed it to career fulfillment):
“Excellence Career Fulfillment can be obtained if you:
…care more than others think is wise;
…risk more than others think is safe;
…dream more than others think is practical;
…expect more than others think is possible.”
When you achieve this, your career fulfillment will exceed even your expectations!