First and foremost, there is no secret formula or career hack to long term career success.
Looking around online you’ll find a variety of “quick-fix” recipes to a successful career, but those only scratch the surface. Ultimately, you’re going to have to work for it and it’s going to take some time.
That’s why I think it may be useful to break career success down into 4 fundamentals.
In order to set this up, let’s first look at this simple definition of success:
- The fact of getting or achieving wealth, respect, or fame
- The correct or desired result of an attempt
There’s a stark difference between the two bullet points. One implies that success is directly related to wealth, respect, or fame, while the other explains success in its most basic form.
Where does that leave you in defining success and knowing if you’re successful or not?
The late Zig Ziglar once said that success cannot be defined in one sentence, but instead it is comprised of many things. The only person that can define those “many things” is you. In the end, you’re the one who will look back on life and determine if it was a success.
That being said, I’ve found in my experiences that the people who report to be the most successful in their lives and happy in their careers have similar personal foundations. These foundations, or fundamentals, are the basis to a truly successful career – no matter how you define success.
Here is my take on the 4 fundamentals to long term career success:
Mental Growth, Not Job Titles
Job titles come and go, but knowledge lasts for a lifetime.
When we learn a new skill or a new piece of information, our brain cells form new patterns of connections – strengthening the brain and making it more resilient as we grow older. Learning keeps our brains functioning at a very high level for a long time.
Sometimes I find myself thinking of my career in terms of job titles and salary – a fleeting and superficial version of success.
The times that I feel most happy are not when I’m cashing my paycheck, but when I create or implement something new from a lesson I’ve learned or a book I’ve read.
The benefit from continual learning is that it will allow you to shine in your career when it matters most. Sooner or later you will be asked to step up and lead a key project or provide insights on a major decision within your company – and it’s in those moments that what you’ve learned over the years will allow you to perform well.
There’s a correlation between knowledge and career success – It’s simply about your frame of mind and which one you pursue first.
A Strong Support System
Success is having a home and people to love who love you in return.
I love that quote, but really, a strong support system can mean a variety of things and is really important to long term career success.
As much as we try to keep them in control, careers are like rollercoasters with high highs and low lows. To bring us back to sea level, it helps to have someone or something to lean on. Support systems come in all shapes and sizes and the sooner you identify and cultivate one in your life the better.
Examples of a support system can include:
- Spouse / Partner
- Close Friend
Once you’ve identified someone or something in your life that you can count on don’t be afraid to fully open up. Doing so will help to relieve stress levels and be a good reminder that the future is bright.
The essentials… Maslow’s bottom of the pyramid… The trifecta.
A good night’s sleep, a consistently healthy diet, and legitimate exercise go beyond our basic human needs to survive. Those who practice these habits in an real way see the benefits play out in their professional lives every single day.
Let’s dive into each a little further.
Did you know that the average adult sleeps less than seven hours each night, when the recommended amount is at least seven hours?
Adequate sleep helps your brain function at an optimum level and has even been shown to increase productivity, happiness, and creativity in adults. Pushing late into the night is a health and productivity killer.
One study found that one sleepless night contributed to a 20-32% increase in the number of errors made by surgeons. This may be an extreme example, but it points to the real affects that a lack of sleep has on the body.
Read all of the technical reasons why your brain needs sleep here.
Have you ever connected a really successful day to what you had to eat? I haven’t either! But numerous studies suggest that what you eat truly does affect your brain and productivity levels in a big way.
Let’s try to think of food for a second as fuel for your brain – an analogy that can help us put into perspective just how important it is to “purchase the right gas.” You probably wouldn’t fill your car up with Gas Station A if you knew that Gas Station B one mile down the road offered gas that was the same price but got you twice as far. So why would we do the same with food? Especially when there’s options C, D, E, F, and so on.
That’s about as scientific as I’ll get there, but the whizzes at Harvard Business Review have a detailed, much more scientific explanation of this food-brain phenomenon.
Exercise helps to supercharge your productivity at work in more ways than one. In medical terms, “physical activity is associated with improved affective experience and enhanced cognitive processing.” This translates to, “your brain performs likes a rockstar after exercise.”
Other great benefits from exercise include:
- Alertness and Focus
- Higher Energy Levels
- Improved Function
- Increased Productivity
- Reduced Stress levels
- Sharper Memory
- Mental Stamina
- Faster Learning
A Hobby/Project to Call Your Own
There is nothing more conducive to long-term happiness than knowing that your actions are making the world a better place or that you’re impacting the lives of those close to you.
We all get so invested in our work and personal lives that we often forget to start something for ourselves. If you don’t currently have a hobby or side project, I’d like to encourage you to pick one up.
Not only will it help to build some skills you never knew you had, but it provides you with an outlet to blow off steam or simply flex your creative muscles.
Who knows, what starts as a hobby may develop into a passion and eventually into a new career.
Going back to the meaning of career success, it’s important to remember that the only correct definition is how you define it.
I’ve found that the 4 fundamentals above have consistently helped me put into perspective my own personal definition of success and what it means for me now and in the future.
Goals and aspirations change, but the fundamentals do not.