The Never-Ending Story of Defining Success

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Success is as unoriginal as other buzzwords of our time. Like passion, motivation or drive, success only carries meaning when put into context. Your context, my context, her context, his context – they all differ. It’s easy to think most of us want the same results from our career, and on similar timelines. The intertwined relationship between career, life and meaning makes every timeline acceptable.

Pushing aside the opinions and social media broadcasts of your network’s career development would require one of two things. Either a f– everyone else’s attitude or understanding of why career timelines can take longer these days. After living in a couple of countries and meeting dozens from other cultures, I’ve come to see that success has many colours and, most importantly, various timelines.

A career, when unmasked of its occupational focus, speaks to the human need for progress. Through multiple forms of education and experience we aim to build the necessary skills to contribute and earn recognition. For many, career might not even be an appropriate term to describe your work. Today we’ll use Wikipedia’s meaning of a career as “an individual’s journey through learning, work and other aspects of life” to address its expanding definition. With more people examining their career alongside meaning and lifestyle, a career is not the answer, but a part of the process.

Much like a science experiment, there is a high degree of trial and error within a career. Some figure it out early on, like the members of Forbes’ 30 Under 30, while others start what they label a true calling decades later. Well-known examples of the latter include Vivienne Westwood, Charles Darwin, Julia Child and Samuel Jackson. Your definition of a career becomes clearer through a series of experiments that either work to support or deconstruct your already held beliefs.

As you go about your career experiments, others will offer their advice and opinion. At times, you might feel discouraged that your reasoning is overlooked. Your friends or parents, for example, question your choice in education or move to another city. This is intensified by the fact that your one choice is a series of many other decisions, both to do and not to do something. When a respected individual disagrees with your one change, it can feel as if they are discrediting your entire value system.

Of course, this is not the case. However, if you don’t define your image of career success and their realistic timelines others will for you. I internalised this well-known idea in a backwards manner. After listening, processing and playing with the ideas of others around career progression, it felt as if I was wearing a coat two sizes too small. My dissatisfaction circled around my own uncertainties, which allowed outside opinions to puncture my own beliefs. Loved ones only demonstrated good intentions by offering their own experiences.

Until you build your own experiences, others will seem more valuable. As each of us engages with alternative concepts around “learning, work and other aspects of life” we create our own beliefs. My working definition of success is, for example, synergising multiple aspects of creative industries to deliver newness, while building meaningful relationships. As I live in one of the most beautiful and stimulating cities, having time to engage in side projects, educations and my community adds a greater meaning to my life. If you asked me for that statement ten years ago, it would diverge. I only concluded the value of relationships when I gained experience in a company, or the importance of your environment after moving abroad.

Success has a rolling deadline. Once you deciphered the ultimate definition, something will change in your circumstances. Putting on blinders to the outside world will not solve the need for your own analysis. By constantly reevaluating your beliefs around the expanded idea of success you will have the confidence to undertake new opportunities and challenges when they pop up.