Forget the traditional ways of defining success. Here’s how to reevaluate your career trajectory and set goals that won’t burn you out.
“YOU CAN KEEP CLIMBING AND STRIVING FOR THAT NEXT POSITION [AT WORK]. BUT WHEN YOU GET THERE, SUDDENLY YOU REALISE THERE’S NO ‘THERE’ THERE. IT’S ALL AN ILLUSION.”
– A partner at a major law firm
What does success look like to women with seemingly amazing careers? Jennifer W. Martineau and Portia R. Mount, co-authors of Kick Some Glass: 10 Ways Women Succeed at Work on Their Own Terms, find out.
“What is success?”
As we interviewed executives around the world, that question continued to resonate for us. More than that, they were echoed by the leaders we spoke to. We heard over and over that the outward trappings of success—salary, title, and recognition—are rarely enough. These executives didn’t think about success in material terms, but crafted their own definitions of success.
Heather Banks, chief human resources officer of a manufacturing company in the US, says that for her, success is about the impact she has in the world. “I try to live my life and ask, ‘Is the story I’m living the one I want to be writing? Would I be happy to have someone tell my story and be proud of it? To know I have made a positive impact on all of the people I am holding space for?’ That is the story that I want to be telling.”
Several executives we spoke with grew up in working class families in which they were the first in their family to go to university. For many of them, their benchmark of success was financial security and the ability to retire before they turn 50. Early in their careers, they established specific career and salary targets each year that would enable them to achieve that goal. That’s a perfectly fine approach, as long as it aligns with your values, intentions, and sense of purpose. But underline this: your definition of success shouldn’t be someone else’s. It’s yours alone.
Reinvention and success come with failure. Every executive we spoke to experienced failure on some level.
When you stretch yourself, you’ll encounter failure. This is a 100 percent certainty. It might be a small setback. It might knock you to the floor. But if you’re not failing, you aren’t experimenting enough.
It’s important to bust the myth that successful people don’t fail. If you spend any time on social media, you might not think that’s the case, right? We live in a hypercurated world where people carefully shape the images they present. People post about their great new jobs, their fabulous vacations, and the amazing meals they’ve eaten. It’s all about success that seems to have happened overnight.
How often do you read about someone’s failure? You don’t. But we need failure because failure gives us data we didn’t previously have. And we can use that knowledge to refine our decisions and clarify our vision. Failure is a necessary part of becoming the best version of ourselves.
In the research done by the Center for Creative Leadership, a global provider of executive education, it was found that women and men tend to experience failure differently. While women may see failure as the result of a personal shortcoming, men often depersonalise it and view it as something that was beyond their control and not necessarily a personal reflection on their ability.
The Tibetan Buddhist nun Pema Chodron encourages us to “fail, fail again, fail better.” Often, as women, when we experience failure, we internalise it, thinking, “I’m a failure” rather than “This thing I really cared about didn’t work out. Why?” Pema challenges us to be curious about failure and not to ignore the emotions such as grief, rage and befuddlement that accompany it. Failure often brings an opportunity for us to step back and look at the big picture. In your career, failure can be your springboard forward.
Take a pen and paper, and answer the following questions:
- What is my most glorious failure?
- How did I feel in the moment of that failure?
- What did that experience teach me that I can carry forward as I step out of my comfort zone to achieve my vision for my life?
- Am I ready to reinvent my career?
- Should I change jobs or make adjustments to the one I have?
- What are one or two actions I can take right now to begin to have a career that’s more aligned with my authentic self?
Kick Some Glass retails at Kinokuniya for $46.50.
EXCERPT FROM KICK SOME GLASS: 10 WAYS WOMEN SUCCEED AT WORK ON THEIR OWN TERMS BY JENNIFER W. MARTINEAU AND PORTIA R. MOUNT.