Rethinking career success


The traditional career track’s definition of success tended to rely heavily on objective criteria such as salary, title, speed of promotion, formal status in an organization’s hierarchy, and stability through uninterrupted employment.

A stagnant salary, lateral transfer, demotion, or layoff was all considered career setbacks. While status and money still carry a lot of weight in defining career success, the boundary less career is increasingly imposing a new set of more subjective criteria on people as they try to define what career success means.

Success criteria that make more sense in today’s workplace include growth through developing new skills ad abilities; personal satisfaction; enjoyable and challenging work assignments; achievements (personal and/or as part of a work group) ; independence; recognition; and the ability to spend more time with family. For instance, free agency gives employees more independence and more power to negotiate terms of employment.

As a case in point, the self-employed contract worker can choose her projects to fit needs and interests rather than being captive to the dictates of her employer. The boundary less career can also provide you with the time to pursue interests outside of work and to better balance work/life conflicts. In a world where people increasingly complain of time-induced stress, the increased flexibility of the boundary less career turns discretionary time into high status. People are increasingly envious of those who can voluntarily choose free time over more money.

The boundary less career provides its own challenges for individuals, including the need to accept responsibility for setbacks and dealing with increased uncertainty. The traditional career provided employees with someone to “blameâ€? — their organization, bosses, co-workers— when they felt their career wasn’t going the way they had planned. That excuse carries less credibility when both employees and employer agree that the primary responsibility for career management lies with the employees themselves.

Another challenge, especially for older workers, is coping with the uncertainty inherent in the boundary less career. In spite of the drawbacks inherent in the traditional career, it did provide a level of stability that allowed employees the feeling (false or otherwise) that their employment was secure and that they could make long-term financial commitments knowing they had a dependable income.

In the current work environment, where your value is increasingly determined by what you can provide an employer today, your job security depends on your developing skills that are in demand by employers and making sure those skills adapt and change with the needs of employers.