If you Google the phrase “how to be successful”, you’ll find plenty of advice telling you which TED talks to watch, which mindsets to adopt, and which steps will help you achieve a fulfilling life. Type “success” into Amazon’s book search, and you’ll get 101 pages filled with books on every aspect of success.
Everywhere you look, someone is willing to sell you the secrets to success. The question is, do you want the brand of success they’re selling?
Our culture obsesses over life and job satisfaction, and that’s a good thing. It’s important that we consider our goals and what’s important to us. But satisfaction is not “one size fits all”. What fulfills me may not hold much joy for you. And what satisfies you today may change in the future.
When I look back on my life, I see that how I defined success in my 20s looks very different from how I define it now, in my 40s with a wife and children. Success is a deeply personal metric, and we need to know what it means to us before we can go out and achieve it.
When I ask people what success means to them, I get very different answers. One person will say, “I want to do meaningful work that improves the world and helps others.” Another responds, “A high salary equals success for me. I don’t want my family to ever worry about money.” A third person might value independence above economic stability, so self-employment represents the height of achievement for them.
All of these are valid pursuits, but the person who desires meaningful work may be onto something. In a nearly 80-year study on happiness, Harvard University researchers “found a strong correlation between men’s flourishing lives and their relationships with family, friends, and community”.
But “meaningful work” is a vague term, and that metric doesn’t resonate with everyone. That’s why you need to reflect deeply on what success and job satisfaction mean to you. (Crown’s Career Direct Assessment can help you find the perfect professional fit and define what career success looks like for you. The better you know yourself, the more likely you are to find meaningful work.)
The quest for meaning and the pursuit of wealth are common themes in discussions about success. But people often commit to those tracks because they sound appealing or because their peers gravitate toward those paths. However, if you don’t consider what meaningful work looks like or what the costs of taking a high-paying job are, you may find that these pursuits ring hollow.
For instance, many people take jobs on Wall Street because they value financial success. But when they’re in the office 60+ hours a week and barely see their families, they realize that wealth isn’t so important to them after all. Now they’re in jobs they hate, and their fat paychecks do very little to console them.
I recently met a gentleman who retired early from his role as a high-paid executive at a multinational, multibillion-dollar corporation. When I asked why he left, he said he couldn’t stand the cutthroat politics and infighting. From the outside, anyone would have thought this guy was the epitome of success. But he was miserable.
After he left the corporate world, he sought opportunities to serve in peaceful, collaborative environments. He discovered that service is what really mattered to him, yet he had chased someone else’s idea of success until it became too agonizing to bear.
Of course, this doesn’t just happen in finance. Someone might take a job in the nonprofit world only to become burned out on organizational bureaucracy and program failures. They joined this field because they wanted to make a difference. But they’ve ended up feeling disengaged and more than a little jaded, and now they’re at a loss for what to do next.
Discovering what success means to us is a challenging process, and it doesn’t happen overnight. In my case, the definition changed during different periods of my life. People often enter a career path believing it will bring them satisfaction, but later realize their values have shifted as they’ve gained new experiences.
That’s OK. In fact, it’s a sign of growth. As we enter new life seasons, we reevaluate what matters. Any parent will tell you that their entire worldview changed the day their first child was born. Bringing a new life into the world puts your priorities into perspective in ways few other experiences do.
But there are many triggers for a change in values, such as getting married, aging, or discovering a new calling. And when that happens, we sometimes find that our professional circumstances no longer align with our values.
However, a disconnect between your desires and your work doesn’t necessarily mean you should quit your job. You may be surprised at how accommodating your employer is willing to be if you share your struggles openly. They would much rather you tell them, “This is what I’m passionate about, and I’d like to spend more time on this area,” than “I’m unhappy so I’m quitting, end of story.” Most bosses will appreciate your candor and help you create a role that satisfies your goals.
When you’ve defined your personal criteria for job satisfaction, you’ll find many ways to meet that standard. Just because your current role no longer resonates the way it used to, that doesn’t mean you have to resign or be dissatisfied. With the right mindset, you can find satisfaction at any job. Here’s how:
If you’re struggling in your work, I encourage you to reevaluate the lens through which you view your life. From a young age, I was taught that everything we do is for the glory of God. No matter what your job or calling, you should do it earnestly and wholeheartedly because all of our efforts contribute to God’s plan. The Bible tells us that if we are faithful in small things, God will bless us in great ways. That is as true in our work as it is in our personal lives.
Now, I know this isn’t always easy. When you’re grinding away on a project and have lost sight of your purpose, it’s very difficult to connect to God’s greatness. Thirty percent of Americans view their jobs as merely helping them “get by”, and it can be very difficult to maintain faith when you’re emotionally disconnected from your work. But that’s when it is most important to offer your frustrations up to God.
In the moments you feel especially challenged, just think of Joseph. The foster father to our Lord, Joseph never lost faith. No matter what challenges God gave him, Joseph persevered. He did not sacrifice his integrity or character, not even during the worst storms of his life. If Joseph could remain faithful, then we can find meaning in our work, regardless of what job we hold.
Viktor Frankl was a Jewish prisoner at Auschwitz during World War II, and he later became a renowned psychiatrist. In his seminal work Man’s Search for Meaning, Frankl wrote that people are driven by meaning. In all situations, we must find a meaning greater than our own feelings or ambitions, and then dedicate ourselves to that cause.
Frankl survived Auschwitz in part because his fellow prisoners depended on him. Even the act of peeling potatoes mattered because it meant others would get to eat. Looking beyond his own suffering helped him endure one of the grossest injustices in history.
Thankfully, most of us will never experience the horrors Frankl suffered. But that’s all the more reason to learn from his example. If you feel bored or disengaged at your job, take a step back. What purpose are you serving? Who are you helping? How do your clients benefit from the actions you take every day? Connecting your daily tasks to a bigger purpose will revitalize your work and give meaning to your career.
Be vigilant about avoiding the comparison trap. Once you’ve defined, or redefined, what success means to you, use only that metric to gauge your success.
Don’t start scrolling through your Facebook or Instagram feeds to see how you measure up to your friends. Yes, they may earn more money than you. They might have bigger houses, nicer cars, and fancier vacation pictures. But none of that matters.
For one thing, their vision of success is not your vision of success. And for another, you don’t know what’s going on behind the scenes. For all of their material wealth, they may be struggling in their marriages or may be disconnected from their families because of their workloads. Stay focused on your goals and no one else’s.
Remember that God judges you not by material success but by faithfulness. If you keep His purpose at the center of your life and work diligently and honestly, you will have succeeded in His eyes.
Not comparing yourself to other people does not mean giving up on your goals. In fact, setting goals is even more important when you’re not measuring yourself against others’ success. Progress motivates us, and the only way to know if we’re progressing is to set goals.
When you’re feeling unmotivated at work, seek out new challenges. If you work on commission, set a higher bar for your earnings this quarter. If you want to learn a new skill, enroll in an online learning course or professional development program and get started. Then map out a plan for integrating that skill into your daily activities.
Even small goals will create momentum. At Crown, we often advise people to use the snowball method to pay off debt. You start by paying down your smallest debts. Then you apply the amounts you previously owed on those to your larger debts. Your total debt gradually comes down, and each time that number drops, you’re newly motivated to keep going.
Setting personal goals has a similar effect. Your confidence will grow with each achievement, and you’ll find yourself engaged in your work again.
Before you start resenting your work, ask yourself whether people problems may be influencing your professional experience. An unresolved conflict with a boss or colleague can really sour the work environment, especially if you’ve been avoiding honest communication about the problem.
Consciously or unconsciously, you may be carrying stress, anxiety, and hostility into work every day, and that negativity is bleeding into your work. Instead of skirting difficult issues, address them head-on. Ask your boss for a meeting to discuss a negative interaction you had or invite that adversarial colleague out for coffee. Let them know that you’re on the same team and that you want to work together. While you can’t control how they’ll respond, you’ll feel better just having opened the door to conversation.
Having a conflict with your boss can be especially draining because of the power differential. But you can boost that relationship simply by showing up with the right attitude. Before you start your workday, remember that you’re there to help your boss. Your job is to lighten their load and do whatever it takes to support the company. When you’re clear on your role, it will be much easier to maintain a positive, proactive demeanor, and your boss will notice.
Don’t be surprised if your relationship improves and your boss soon starts recommending you for special projects and promotions that spark feelings of deep satisfaction in your career.
These steps may feel overwhelming, especially if you’re beginning a new season and are trying to discern your purpose. But you don’t have to tackle them all at once. You might take the step that resonates most at this moment. Or you might dive into the area that’s most emotionally challenging.
However you approach this time in your life, know that the first step is the hardest. Once you’ve begun to shift your thinking about success and job satisfaction, it will get easier to keep your faith and succeed on your own terms, whatever those may be.
I strongly believe that knowing yourself – your design, how God made you – can have the biggest impact on your job satisfaction. Crown’s Career Direct assessment will help you understand yourself better, by examining your personality, skills, interests, and values. I recommend you take the assessment and schedule a phone call with one of our Consultants if you want a truly satisfying, meaningful career.
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