How to be professionally successful and feel it
By Jessica Brownlee
What is professional success, how can you get it and how to boost your feelings of accomplishment?
We all have goals and desires, things we want to achieve, work towards and aspire to. For many, being successful in their profession means reaching a goal, accomplishing something, achieving a level of status or expertise in their profession or just feeling good at what they do. The thing about being successful is not only about the things you measure and see but how you feel about those things.
Success is a very personal thing, and sometimes despite what it looks like to others we just don’t feel successful. And how you define and see your success is important. It influences your drive, motivation, your choices, priorities and ultimately what you pursue. So it kind of makes sense that to be successful and feel successful, you need to first know what success is to you.
Another secret of professional success is that success generally begets successes. When you feel like you have achieved something noteworthy, your reward center in your brain is activated, releasing all those feel good hormones, which in turn re-energizes, motivates and inspires you towards more success seeking behavior.
Clarifying your perception on professional success
Professional success really is personal, relative and contextual. Often the problem with our current mindsets and definitions of success is that we are subconsciously influenced by society and adopt external perspectives on what we define as our professional success. In fact, it is naïve to believe you have reached your current perception of success objectively and independently. For example, the unrealistic comparisons we make with others’ career posts on linkedin or any social media platforms makes us feel that perhaps we are not achieving at the level of others. Sometimes these unrealistic comparisons mean we see our peer group as earning more, achieving more and getting more status than us on a frequent basis, eroding our feelings of success.
Your current physical and mental state can also make you feel unsuccessful. Our body’s energy levels impact our decision making. Numerous studies have shown that your physical body shapes your mind. A hungry, tired or depleted person is more likely to come to a negative assessment of their professional success than someone who is rested and experiencing balanced blood sugar. Similarly, someone who is pessimistic or in a negative frame of mind, perhaps from sustained stress at work or the pandemic, is more likely to not feel successful than a person who is in mentally healthy space.
Another thing to consider is how you are measuring your success, you may use measures of success which are stacked against you, making you feel like a failure again and again. What do we mean by this? A great example is you might be measuring your success purely on your annual income instead of your work life balance. So you earn less than your friend in their job but they work at least 60 hours a week compared to your 40. Similarly, research by Lean In shows women are less likely to receive a promotion to manager than men, which implies if you are a woman measuring your success by an increase in seniority of position instead of an increase in your expertise or achievements, you will feel unsuccessful despite the odds being stacked against you and your professional performance.
So an important starting point to boost your professional success and feel fulfilled is to clarify your perception. Awareness is key to achieving your success. A great way to do that is to reflect and build your understanding, try working through these example questions to craft a professional success vision for yourself:
- What do I value about my work?
- What do I value about myself at work?
- What are my unique strengths I bring to the table?
- What are deal breakers and dealmakers for me in my profession?
- What am I proud of and why?
Boosting your professional success
Now that you have insights into your perception of success, let us look at ways you can really be and feel successful. Maybe you find you’re doing everything you can to be professionally successful but you just do not feel successful. While some small mindset shifts and focus areas will ensure you’re more successful, half the reason you are pursuing professional success is to feel good about your work, yourself and what you can accomplish. Here are our top eight suggestions to boost your success, letting you really feel and live the successes you envision:
- Be aware of your strengths:
Being aware of your unique talents and strengths definitely allows you to seek out and identify opportunities where you can leverage these. You can also make sure you develop the areas of yourself to compliment your strengths and grow your success.
- Assume responsibility:
A major difference between mediocre and successful people is assuming responsibility. It is not about taking things personally but rather taking responsibility for the part you play, in both positive and negative happenings and assuming responsibility for all your actions.
- Set stretching goals and standards:
That is the thing about being successful, it requires you to reach a little higher and try a little harder. You need to take time every now and then, perhaps quarterly, to assess how far you’ve come and what you could do to raise your standards. As we always say, there is no learning without a little stretch, just like you cannot build fitness without effort.
- Know your personal brand:
You will need to know your personal brand. Just like companies are spending time and money on differentiating themselves with their brand, so too do you need to brand yourself as a professional. Your work and professionalism is your brand and you need to ensure it is desirable, consistent and aligned to your professional goals.
- Build networks and relationships:
Just as important to what you know is who you know. Not only can networks and connections open doors for you, you will also need human to human support in your professional sphere. Think collaboration, brainstorming or just some positive affirmations from those you work with.
- Be curious and learning obsessed
You’ve heard it a million times, but that doesn’t make it old hat – change is the only constant. You cannot stay on top of your game and be successful unless you constantly unlearn, relearn and innovate. Seek new skills, experiences and opportunities in everything.
- Be aware of imposter syndrome
According to Harvard, Imposter syndrome affects high achievers more. It is the feelings of self-doubt you get around your abilities and feeling like a fraud at work, like you do not deserve to be there and despite evidence to the contrary that you are not competent. Knowing when imposter syndrome is creeping in can help you keep it in check.
- Be Well
As we mentioned, your success is contextual and affected by your environment. Make sure you look after yourself both physically and mentally to give yourself the best shot at being successful.
Boosting that successful feeling
We all know that feeling of achieving something we have been striving towards. While you are pursuing this super successful profession and achieving goals left, right and center, it is important to make sure your success is sustainable. Sure success, like anything, happens in peaks and valleys. There will be times when all the hard work you’ve put in will culminate in a successful project or some noteworthy accomplishment and recognition. And in other instances you might feel like you are stagnant without progress. It is important to boost your successful feelings and remain motivated and engaged in your pursuit, after all good things take time and effort.
Specific brain chemicals are responsible for some of those positive, good vibes we feel when we achieve something. Dopamine, which makes us feel really good, is highest when we are about to achieve a goal rather than when we actually achieve it. The expectation of success triggers a good feeling, releasing energy and renewed attention as well as the tendency to seek things out. You can encourage this feel good moment even more so by stopping once in a while and reflecting on the progress you’ve made and how far you’ve come. Savor that moment just before you knock the ball out of the park.
Spend time reflecting and taking stock of your successes. In society today we are so wired to look towards the next big thing, we often forget to pause and notice what we have just accomplished. Make a habit of consciously pausing on the high points of your professional journey and remembering them often. If this feels too prideful for you why not try it as a gratitude journal.
Finally, and we cannot stress this enough, celebrate the small and big wins. Just like running a few seconds faster per kilometer is you moving towards your next pb so is your boss asking you to take the lead on a meeting or trusting you with a decision. It is easy to only focus on the big things, and forget the incremental small wins which are additive to and crucial in our successes. Celebrate these small wins with a personal reward, a humble brag to a close friend or just mentally appreciating them. After all, you need to be your biggest supporter.
A word from Wellbe and Jessica
Through sharing knowledge and experience, we want to help you become your most successful self. In your professional success we believe you can help us build more successful communities, organizations and people. Because when we are the optimal version of ourselves, both physically, emotionally and mentally, then we all thrive.
Your health is your wealth so make lasting changes, one habit at a time.
The WellBe Team
About Jessica Brownlee
Jessica is an industrial and organizational psychologist specializing in learning, leadership, talent, neuroscience and wellness. A self-proclaimed wellness geek, Jessica writes The Humble Humanologist blog to inspire, motivate and uplift others on their work and wellness journey. She is her own boss, running a consulting company, Psychology360 (www.psychology360.org) and consults globally to some of the leading organizations. Jessica also strives to find balance and is an avid yogi and yoga teacher (who is yet to master a hand stand).