What is the benchmark for career success?Can success be absolute or is it always relative?If you are a finance professional and working in a corporate, then becoming a CFO could ideally be considered as the pinnacle of professional success. However, if one is the CFO of a small or mid-sized company, would that fall in the ambit of ‘success’? Taking this analogy further, if one is the CFO of a large-sized company, should one feel low if one’s peer is the CFOs of a Fortune 500 company?
If success is relative, where should the comparison end? As per an HBR article, “To succeed in a competitive world, it’s only natural for us to benchmark our progress against the people around us. And for those with a high need for achievement , constant external comparison becomes a source of motivation and a way to set clear targets for career success.” We all do this in our lives constantly and throughout. While the comparison is good to motivate and goad ourselves, it should not become a source of loss of self-worth, depression, frustration and the like.
Entering the hallowed portals of the C-suite need not be on the bucket list of every professional. The path is tough and apart from intelligent and unconventional choices, C-suite roles require a lot of gumption, foresight, swift strategic decisions, risk-taking and out-of-the-box thinking.
Not everyone is cut out for the corner office. Not everyone who aspires makes it to the corner office. In a company, there can be only one CEO, one CFO and so on. One must have the ability to truly and realistically assess one’s talents and capability. Maybe the CEO post that you crave for is not for you as you may not have the requisite traits in you to become the CEO. You are probably better suited for something else which will help you realise your true potential. Our career needs to be structured and aligned according to our true nature, real talents, actual capabilities, our purpose and our vision for our life.
Success is achieving one’s true potential. Having a stable, fulfilling personal life is of utmost importance to accelerate one’s professional career, else there is the danger of professional burnout. As per an HBR article in August 2019, “True success comes from a combination of four particular elements of ‘calling, connection, contribution, and control’ that allow individuals to carve their own paths, do their best work, and live their best lives.”
Society and social media celebrate ‘successful’ people and showcase them. Should we do what we want, or follow the diktats of society?
‘Objective’ career success is judged by external people based on visible criteria such as job designation, status, salary and occupation (Ng et al., 2005) while ‘Subjective’ career success is based on the internal components such as employees’ personal interpretations, perspectives and evaluations of their career achievements (Arthur, Khapova, & Wilderom, 2005).
Recent research studies have extended the Kaledioscope Career Model (used initially to study the career patterns of women) to study the implications of the 3 parameters of Authenticity, Balance and Challenge on the definition and evaluation of a successful career. Doing meaningful work, making a difference, being a role model, etc., were found similar to the ‘Authenticity’ parameter. Similarly, indulging in hobbies, pursuing meaningful activities outside of work in addition to work-life balance, etc., were akin to the ‘Balance’ aspect with opportunities for growth and development, new assignments, etc., relating to the ‘Challenge’ parameter of the KCM.
Success cannot be unidimensional alluding to professional success as the only barometer to declare success. Success encompasses happiness, achievement, a sense of purpose. Real success should ensure a sense of well-being and not induce stress and anxiety. As one achieves on these parameters, one feels successful. For some a sense of accomplishment spurs them on, for some it’s a sense of fulfillment/purpose that spurs them on.
Success could finally be the attainment of your goal that you set out to achieve. So, go ahead and develop your own unique individualistic definition of success. Remember, ‘Success is not the key to happiness. Happiness is the key to success’.
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