How to build a meaningful career (part 1): Redefine success

How to build a meaningful career (part 1): Redefine success

What you’ll find in this series

What is a “meaningful” career? Is it something that fully uses a person’s skills, abilities, and interests? Does it have to give the person plenty of free time? Or maybe it’s one that solves world peace?

The thing is, there is no single answer. It’s different for each of us. If something feels worth doing, then it’s meaningful to you.

“Forget whatever you were taught about ‘meaningful work’ and start noticing whatever has meaning to you.” – Barbara Sher

This three-part blog series show you how you can build a more meaningful career by first refining your own definition of “meaningful,” and then living that definition.

In Part 1: Redefine success (this post), I’ll suggest a new way to define success. We’ll explore the question, What do I want?

In Part 2: Know your values, I cover how you can identify and prioritize your values by asking, Who do I want to be? These values are what give your work meaning.

In Part 3: Every action counts, I’ll show you how being successful on these new terms is both far easier and feels way better than what you’ve been trying. We’ll consider, What feels good?

It’s time for a change

For many years I felt like a dog chasing her tail — like whatever the heck “success” was, I couldn’t seem to reach it. It didn’t matter how many things went well. I had a stable, high-paying career. I earned the respect of my peers. I was constantly learning and advancing, receiving high praise and bonuses. And yet, I felt like a failure. Like none of this was quite good enough.

Luckily, my tail-chasing days are gone. Instead, I consistently feel successful, fulfilled, and on-track with my work. No, not every minute of every day — but way more often than not. I feel energized and creative. I generously connect with individuals. I get to help people change their lives!

How was I able to make this massive mental shift?

The most important thing I did to experience more success in my life was to change my definition of success. To clarify what “meaningful” means to me.

The most important thing I did was change my definition of success.

So let’s dive right in and learn how you can redefine success for yourself.

What we really want

We always want something, right? Movies would be boring without the main character who wants something soooo badly and is struggling to get it. Marlin wants to find his son Nemo. Rose wants to be with Jack in Titanic. And I fell asleep at Lord of the Rings, but I think everyone’s either looking for a magical ring or trying to destroy it.

What are some things you really want? Maybe a bigger paycheck, a house in the woods, your own wildly successful business…

#realtalk: These things aren’t what you want. Not exactly. What you want is how these things might make you feel.

What we’re really after is the way we expect things to make us feel.

Pick something you really want. Now close your eyes and imagine that you have that thing. Pay attention to your body. What emotions come up when you imagine having the thing?

Here are some feelings using the examples from above:

  • A bigger paycheck will make me feel secure, appreciated, relaxed.
  • A house in the woods will make me feel calm, peaceful, connected, joyful.
  • My own business will make me feel creative, generous, joyful.

A variety of thought leaders have written on this subject. In The Desire Map, author Danielle LaPorte writes, “You’re not chasing the goal itself — you’re chasing the feelings that you hope attaining those goals will give you.” In Steering by Starlight, Martha Beck tells us, “What we’re really after when we yearn for something is a feeling state.”

So now that you know what you’re really after, how do you apply that to your career development?

A new measure of success

I invite you to redefine success in terms of your own desired feelings.

Redefine success in terms of how you feel.

I define my success by how I feel. For example, through my work I want to feel catalytic — I want to help people change their lives more quickly and easily. I don’t measure myself on things like the magnitude of my clients’ life changes or even the number of clients I serve because I can’t fully control those outcomes. Instead, I feel successful — like I’m focused in the right direction — when I feel catalytic. And I feel catalytic every time I take action that has the potential to inspire someone to make a positive change in their life.

If you’ve ever worked in corporate America, you’ve probably heard the famous quote by management consultant Peter Drucker, “What gets measured, gets managed.” Your new measurement stick will encourage you to prioritize your time and energy around your desired feelings, which leads to meaningful action.

I’ll share an example. Early in my coaching career, even though I knew this stuff, I slipped off course for a bit. I started focusing all of my energy on a single number: my revenue goal. Every day I didn’t receive a payment (which was most days), I felt like a screw-up!

When I woke up to my silliness and refocused on my desired feelings, I could easily feel successful most days. I realized I have full control over whether I put my wisdom out into the world. Suddenly, I was creating a 17-page guide to help people transform their living space and their life. Next, I was consistently sharing my expertise on social media and through my newsletter. I gained followers. I coached more people. I received stunning praise, things like “I always feel so inspired after working with you!” and being called “a genuine gift!” And all because I focused on how I wanted to feel!

Armed with your new definition of success, you’ll feel the way you want to feel more often. And you may be pleasantly surprised at how the world responds!

Additional Reading

  • In part 2 of this series, I show you how to identify and prioritize the specific feelings that give your work (and your life) meaning.
  • In part 3, I show you how you can consistently experience those feelings.
  • I Could Do Anything If I Only Knew What It Was: How to Discover What You Really Want and How to Get It by Barbara Sher
  • The Desire Map: A Guide to Creating Goals with Soul by Danielle LaPorte
  • Steering by Starlight: The Science and Magic of Finding Your Destiny by Martha Beck

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PC: Kimberly Bailey