How Do You Measure Success?


Doing well at work requires more than just showing up on time and attending to your to-do list. Of course, getting stuff done is a part of it. But, a successful career is about a lot more than just checking off assignments. You’ll be missing the mark if you focus exclusively on hitting the goals your employer sets out for you.

It isn’t all about money, either. Just because you earn a high salary, doesn’t mean you’re where you want to be professionally.

Ways to measure success:

successful meetings

The truth is that there isn’t one right method for measuring success. In fact, there are many different ways to determine how well you’re doing professionally. And, your measures aren’t the only ones that count. Other people’s views on your success matter, too. This is especially true when it comes to the opinion of your boss or that of potential future employers.

Here are a few factors to consider:

1. Your autonomy

Researchers have found that the more freedom and control workers have, the higher their job satisfaction. Having autonomy could mean that you’re encouraged to complete your tasks the way you want. Or, maybe you set your own schedule.

Being more independent at work helps you feel like a respected professional. It’s a measure of success because it takes some real skill and experience to get to this place with your work. Your boss couldn’t leave a rookie to do their job on their own. Only a skilled and trusted employee gets to that place.

2. Your salary


Your earnings aren’t the only thing that defines success, but money is certainly one of the most conventional measures. It helps if you know that you’re being compensated fairly for what you do. Take the PayScale Salary Survey to find out what workers in your industry with your level of experience are earning. Consider negotiating for higher compensation if you find that your current earnings aren’t where they should be.

Also, be sure to look at other aspects of your pay, like perks and benefits, including flex time and telecommuting privileges, when considering your total compensation. These kinds of things can go a long way toward helping you feel happy with your job and professionally successful.

Keep in mind that your salary is one measure of your success — but isn’t everything. There’s a lot more to a great career than just a paycheck. Some industries pay more than others. This reflects cultural standards, and it doesn’t say anything about your performance. For example, if you’re an excellent social worker, you might never earn a super high salary. But, that doesn’t mean that you can’t have a successful career.

“Money has never made a man happy yet, nor will it. There is nothing in its nature to produce happiness. The more a man has, the more he wants. Instead of filling a vacuum it makes one. If it satisfies one want, it double and trebles that want another way” – Benjamin Franklin

3. Your performance and reputation

Do you dread your performance reviews? If so, you’re missing an opportunity to gain information about what’s working and what isn’t. Your boss may have valuable insight to offer that can help you take your career to the next level.

And don’t let the constructive criticism portion bring you down. Resist the temptation to brush aside the accolades and focus solely on the suggestions for improvement. As humans, we have a natural negativity bias that causes us to do things like this. But, focusing on the negative without seeing the rest won’t help you.

Similarly, don’t dismiss the notes you receive about the things you need to work on. Yes, they have to give you something to work on. But, that doesn’t mean that the recommendations you receive are a stretch.

4. Your employer and your title

how to negotiate a raise during a promotion
Jakub Gorajek/Unsplash

Some people might consider it a sign of success to work for a company with a big name and solid reputation. Brand-name employers can boost your profile in the industry, and give you an opportunity to meet and work with people at the top of their game. Often, these companies are also employers of choice, which can mean awesome perks, job security and involvement with the organization’s decision-making process.

However, working for a big name can come with its drawbacks, too. These jobs can be very demanding. Plus, the name alone isn’t worth much if you’re not passionate about the work itself. Others might regard you as successful for working there. But, if you’re unhappy, how much does that really matter?

Similarly, your job title can say a lot about your standing within an organization and within your profession in general. This is another measure of success to consider. Maybe you’d rather be the CFO of a smaller organization than a part of the general sales force for a larger one. It’s really all about how you define success for yourself.

5. Your relationships

Cultivating strong relationships within your workplace and your field is a key measure of success. Doing good work on a consistent basis is one way to build and strengthen these ties, sure, but there’s more to it than that. The way you conduct yourself and the way you interact with others matters, too.

Researchers have found that being authentic can help improve your reputation at work, for example. And, having a positive attitude is beneficial when it comes to building strong relationships. People tend to respond well to someone who’s capable professionally and also pleasant personally.

Don’t underestimate the benefits of attaining this type of professional success. A lot of great things can come from having close relationships with others in your field. People will want to work with you and they’ll bet on your success — even when the outcome of a risky venture is unclear. When someone feels they know you beyond your title, your influence extends further.

It pays to remember that spending time building relationships at work isn’t a waste of time. In fact, in many ways, it’s just as important as executing tasks and moving tangible work forward. Business is done between people. So, building strong relationships is a crucial measure of success.

“There is little success where there is little laughter.” – Andrew Carnegie

6. Your career trajectory

a promotion without a raise

Another way to think about your professional success is to take a look at your career trajectory up until this point. Are you moving up — or are you just moving around? The only thing that matters is that you’re heading in the direction you’d like to go.

If you’re currently doing your dream job, are you making progress in ways other than with your job title? Perhaps you’re getting more decision-making power within your organization, or earning larger bonuses year to year.

Every case is different. But, examining your career trajectory is a way to measure your success. It’s great to see forward movement and progress, as a general rule. But, don’t expect to make big gains right off the bat. You have to gain experience before you can ascend the ranks. Don’t feel discouraged if it doesn’t happen right away.

7. Your happiness

At the end of the day, there is perhaps no greater measure of your professional success than your happiness. If you enjoy what you do and don’t dread going to work every day, you should consider yourself fortunate. Only 40 percent of employees are happy at work, according to research from consulting firm Great Place to Work.

You’ll spend an awful lot of time at work over the course of your career. (It comes out to about 90,000 hours over the course of a lifetime. That’s nearly a third of your waking adult life.) So, it makes a lot of sense to try to work a job that you enjoy if you can. There is no greater measure of success than getting paid to do something that you truly love to do.

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