One of my friends has recently moved towns to be with her boyfriend and is currently looking for work in her new city. Although Leah, as I shall refer to her here, has a lot of experience in her field and exudes professionalism, she’s facing the typical job placement challenges. Almost all of us have been there. You carefully fill out applications and HR forms, tweak your résumé for the 17th time, and send your best self out into what feels like an abyss most days.
I was in the same boat a few years ago, exploring everything from Craigslist to temp agencies to head hunters. I got temp jobs here and there and eventually ended up staying at one company for a while, doing data entry and answering the phone. Although I was grateful for this employment, it was hard not to feel demoralized. I was sitting on a master’s in English, and the work I was doing wasn’t tapping into any of the skills I’d just “mastered.”
When I wasn’t employed, I was impatient to do anything to make some money. When I was finally employed, I was impatient to do something more closely related to my field and interests. I was constantly impatient to be and feel successful. I admit that I haven’t completely broken this cycle. Although I’m now employed and happily so, working as a writing consultant and a freelance writer, I still shame myself for not contributing more to my field, for not growing my career more quickly, and for not, somehow, finding more hours in the day.
I’m certainly still finding the line between productively pushing myself with helpful self-critique and just plain making myself feel crummy for not being a superstar X, Y, or Z.
When I was chatting with Leah about temp agencies and the like, I realized that I’ve come a long way from those days of agonizing over finding work. I’ve had amazing mentors, some good fortune, and I’ve put in some hard work. I haven’t achieved great wealth (far from it, dear reader), and I imagine that many career milestones are still somewhere in the nebulous distance, but I must acknowledge that progress has been made. Most days I don’t feel “successful” in the way we traditionally use the word, but if I think of success as a dynamic process, rather than a static state, then yes, I do feel successful. I’m going in a good direction, and I feel that I have some control in the matter.
Whether you’re in the middle of building your career or just looking for an “in-between” job, I recommend measuring your success in these five, non-stressful ways. They should help show you that you are in a process of being successful, and you have more control than you may actually think.
5 Non-Stressful Ways to Measure Your Career Success
Are you putting energy into your current purpose? When I was applying for jobs and not hearing back from 99.9% them, I didn’t feel like I was doing anything, but I was! In the span of a few months, I’d applied to over 60 jobs. I was doing everything I could on my end, and hunting for a job was its own job, even if it wasn’t super rewarding. Eventually, it paid off.
When I finally landed an administrative job, I tried to do my best at the office and contribute in some way, beyond my basic duties. Even though my efforts there weren’t directly related to my larger goals, it was good experience as far as my professionalism and mental flexibility were concerned. Putting energy into your most immediate purpose is a step in the right direction.
Are you creating your own definition of success? Through my online work, I’ve encountered several entrepreneurial women (I have a girl crush on several of them), and sometimes I can confuse their lofty goals with my own because these people are just that cool. If you’ve ever adopted someone else’s definition of success that varies a bit from your own, you may have experienced an unsettling feeling of detachment from yourself. This is a sign that you should hone in on what you want and accept those dreams, which can be easier said than done, especially when others around you have different personal values. It may help to journal about what brings you energy in life.
Are you keeping your larger goals in mind? Sometimes you have to focus on The Now—like getting on your feet and paying the rent. When you’re in “survival mode,” it’s easy to feel like there’s nothing else in life. But I don’t want you to forget what you’d like to be doing five years from now. Keep something on your person or on your mirror to remind you of bigger things.
Are you taking steps to reach those goals? By “steps,” I mean anything from doing research related to your goals to just sitting down and defining those goals through journaling. It may feel like slow progress, but we often overlook the value—and the difficulty—of honoring our dreams, even in small ways.
What is the nature of your self-critique? As I mentioned before, the line between constructive self-criticism and unproductive self-shaming can be difficult to define, so it’s very important to continually check in with yourself on this matter. Encourage the voice that reminds you to develop your skills and seek new opportunities. Quiet the one that unfairly compares you to others.
How do you feel about your career progress, using these measures? (Hopefully, inspired, proud, and not stressed.) 🙂
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Photo: Juan Felipe Rubio via Flickr