Someone once told me that you should measure your work with how you feel in three areas. Are you happy; are you learning; and are you advancing? Every person will quantify these subjects differently. To some, advancing – and thus bringing in more money – could be more important than how much they are learning. To others, as long as they are happy, they will stay in a job, even if it means they'll never get ahead.
While these 3 themes are how you can evaluate your career (whether your own business or working for someone else), it's up to you to decide which piece of the pie is most important. It may be that you need all three to feel successful at work, or perhaps they come in phases. When you're young, you're eager to learn and you want to rise to the top quickly. Maybe it's not the ideal profession out of college, but as they say, it gets the job done. When you've been working for 20 years, advancing may no longer be number one priority, and perhaps you've learned most of what you could in your field. These people could be content as long as they are happy with what they're doing and enjoy coming to work.
There are stages for how satisfied you are in each of these areas as well. You've been advancing as you've hoped, but you were recently passed up for a promotion you felt you deserved. Likely, even if the two other areas are being fulfilled, advancing will become more important to you because it didn't happen. You've been doing the same work for 3 years, and you feel you know everything there is to know about your field — you're considered a specialist. But, you're bored, you're not gaining new knowledge and information, and you're craving a job that will challenge you and teach you something new. Or (and this may be the worst one of all), you're doing well at work, you're getting noticed and you're getting ahead — but you're not happy. Sure, everyone has days where you question what you should be doing with your life. In this case, maybe you feel underappreciated and overworked, and while all things are looking bright, your happiness level isn't on par.
So let's take a look at each of these 3 areas separately:
Are you happy? — What does this mean to you? Do you enjoy getting up and going to work in the morning? Or, are you looking for other work because you know something better is out there? Do you find yourself counting the minutes until you can finish your day? Work makes up at least 40 hours of your life — for many of us much more — shouldn't you at least enjoy it?
Are you learning? — Some people like the thrill of a challenge, always learning something new, and doing something bigger and better with every opportunity. Others hate change and are most comfortable with what they are familiar with. This area is debatable — is learning equally as important to you as being happy?
Are you advancing? — Since a good percentage of people don't work because they like it, but rather so they make money, advancing is an important aspect. The more often you advance, likely the more income you will make. Plus, it makes you feel good about yourself and confident in your abilities when you can get to the next level and take on more responsibilities. Unless you enjoy what you do, when you make enough money and no longer care about advancing, why would you stay?
Ultimately, learning and advancement contribute to feelings of success in the workplace, but as I always say — it all comes back to doing what you love (or enjoy). So what's important to you? Are all 3 weighted equally, or does one far surpass the others? What other aspects contribute to your feelings of career success?
Lisa Promise is the founder of Promise Consulting Group, a full-service marketing, advertising, and communications consulting company for small businesses. Read more about Lisa here.