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Advice / Succeeding at Work / Getting Ahead

3 Better Ways to Define Success for Yourself (That Don't Include Salary)

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Getting a raise, being promoted, landing a sought-after job: Most of us equate these milestones with success.

And while these achievements are cause for celebration, they’re not the only way to judge your career.

Real, lasting success stems from identifying what fulfills you most, and then allowing those things to influence your daily work and future career decisions. I know that sounds like a challenging task, but you can get started today by asking yourself three clarifying questions.

1. “What Are My Values When it Comes to Work?”

It’s easy for days, weeks, and even months to fly by when you’re consumed by the day-to-day pressures of your job. But, that’s how people end up spending years in a career path that they aren’t quite sure is right for them.

It’s essential that you put aside time to think about the bigger picture: where you are, what you find fulfilling, and where you want to be.

Is your work challenging? Do you appreciate an environment that celebrates risk-taking? Do you want more opportunities to flex your creative muscles?

Answering these questions requires a lot of self-reflection. But, taking the time to tackle these topics can help you discover more about yourself and your long-term goals. It’ll help you zero in on how you define success, so you move toward achieving it.

For example, it could be that you’re not making as much money as someone you know in a similar role at a different company, but they feel like their days are filled with mundane tasks and you’re given many more opportunities to grow and learn and pursue projects that interest you.

2. “Whose Career Do I Admire?”

The answer might be a family member, a friend, or a former colleague. It doesn’t need to be an influencer or even someone in your direct line of work. (Though, it’s OK if it is!)

Think about someone who inspires you, and ask yourself why you consider that person to be successful. Is it because of the industry they work in? The amount of travel they get to do? Or, maybe it’s because of the impact they have on people’s lives?

Maybe you know someone who you see as a real trailblazer in her field. She’s constantly taking risks and innovating, and as a result asked to participate in pretty cool opportunities. Once you’re able to pinpoint the elements of her career that you love, you can allow those characteristics to inform your own path.

What’s more, don’t be afraid to use that person as a resource and a mentor. Reaching out for advice and confiding in someone about your ambitions can be intimidating, but remember that people want to help and see you succeed. Having someone to talk to as you work toward your goals makes staying focused and navigating the ups and downs of your career path seem a whole lot more manageable.

If you’re unsure how to go about that, here are the secrets to turning someone you admire into a real-life mentor

3. “What Impact Do I Want to Have?”

Many people want to do meaningful work, but are held back by a one-dimensional view of what that means. For example, you might initially think that this only applies to people who work at nonprofits.

But there are lots of ways to make a difference. For example, it could be that you’re most engaged when you’re designing useful products, or motivating a team, or working directly with customers.

To feel impactful in your work, hone in on specific areas within your organization, field, or community in which you’d like to see change happen—and allow that to influence your goals, both in the short and long-term.

Change will not come overnight, but identifying how you’d like to leave your mark, and working toward that leads to professional fulfillment.

Answering these three questions may seem like a tall order, so start small. Grab a notebook (or start a new note in your phone) as your go-to place for when inspiration strikes. When you feel energized about something, jot it down. When you meet someone who impresses you, scribble their name and what you learned.

Continue this process—observe, reflect, repeat—until your own goals become clearer. Once they do, you’ll have a well-researched jumping off point for how you want to pursue career success.