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Defining Career Success: 5 Questions to Ask Yourself in the New Year
Career Growth

Defining Career Success: 5 Questions to Ask Yourself in the New Year

The fresh slate of the new year is a fantastic time for updating goals, rethinking commitments, and taking a deep, ponderous look at where you are and where you want to be, both personally and professionally.

And the new research that LinkedIn just released couldn’t be more timely. While there are many methods and opinions folks use to define success, my personal take is that it really doesn’t have to be complicated. In fact, I think it boils down to five key questions.


1. What does success look like to you?

LinkedIn research found that success means different things to different people, and 87% of Americans say that it isn’t about what you accomplish, it’s about what you inspire others to do.

So, when you ask yourself this question, take a holistic view—not just a career or business view. Because for most of us, even the most fulfilling career is a means to an end.

Think about what motivates you and gets you excited. Envision success in your life. Perhaps it’s about spending quality time with your family, like 53% of LinkedIn respondents. It may be about having time to explore South America or freedom from financial worries. Maybe it’s about making a difference in your community or turning a beloved hobby into a business. Whatever it is, brainstorm and write it all down.

Next, think about how each item on that list makes you feel. Does it inspire you? Are you energized? Does it feel deeply meaningful? Let your imagination delight in all the wonderfulness that each success item offers. Prioritize these items and then focus on the ones that rise to the top.


2. What are the successes in your life?

It’s important to take stock of and celebrate past successes—even the small ones. Sometimes successes are unexpected results of another goal you were trying to achieve. Sometimes they are partial successes. The key here is to really take the time to get them on paper and remember them.

Perhaps you were able to take more time off work to spend with your kids. Perhaps you were able to pay down debt or you spent time mentoring at-risk youth. Maybe you ran your first 5k or learned a new skill. According to LinkedIn, 89% of Americans ranked “learning a new skill” as their top career goal in 2018.

Writing down your successes offers a couple benefits. First, it’s encouraging to see all your successes laid out before you. It’s a reminder you that you are moving forward, which can be hard to see amidst the daily grind.

Second, it’s important to see patterns. It helps you to identify areas in your life that you are drawn to and areas to continue focusing on. It also helps you to highlight gaps and areas where you might be able to make meaningful headway. Prioritize your list, putting the items that are most compelling at the top.

3. What are some areas of dissatisfaction in your life?

It’s also important to look at areas of dissatisfaction. What were your struggles?  What are you frustrated about? What would you change if you could? Perhaps you didn’t save as much money as you’d hoped to or you missed out on too many of your kids’ soccer games and swim meets. You may have put on a few pounds. Whatever it is, make a list of the key, nagging areas of your life where you’d like to see greater success and, again, prioritize that list.


4. What are your specific goals that will lead to success?

Now is the time to look forward and set some SMART goals (or systems, if that’s your preference) that will help you achieve success. With your three lists, you’re probably seeing some key patterns and categories emerge that can help you define your goals.

My recommendation is to keep it simple. Pick up to three goals that you feel are most important and wrap some simple, meaningful language around them. The shorter the better (Melinda Gates chooses one word for the entire year). Then keep your goals visible. Put them on your laptop wallpaper. Write them on a sticky note. Just make sure you keep these goals in front of you throughout the year.

How to Hack Purpose

5. What actions can you take to achieve greater success?

Now that you have your goals in place, it’s time to put simple actions behind them. If your goal is to make a difference in your community, your action may be to sign up to mentor at-risk youth or deliver meals to the homeless. If your goal is to spend more quality time with your family, perhaps your action is to work on task delegation skills at work or find a new job with less travel. If your goal is to reduce debt, your action may be to start a side business or bring your lunch to work every day.

Be creative but find real actions you can take to achieve success in the new year. If you need additional inspiration, take a look at LinkedIn’s findings to see how others are defining success. You might be surprised at what it looks like!

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