Karen Armon

How to Create a Successful Career — and Life

Realizing and acting on four truths can help you live your ideal life.

by Karen Armon, August 2011

Evan was frustrated — that fact was very clear to me. In the warm summer sunlight, sitting at a sidewalk café and drinking coffee, Evan was unaware of the beautiful morning that lit up the world around us. He had a deep frown on his face and his words were filled with unrestrained anger. He’d been passed up for a project that he wanted to be a part of and couldn’t understand why.

“Maybe I should just quit,” Evan exclaimed. “My boss doesn’t seem to understand what it is that I want to do and keeps assigning me to projects that I’ve done over and over again. I am so bored and I need to do something new!”

Evan looked at me straight in the eye and asked, “What should I do? How can I get out of this daily grind?”

What is Success?

Of course, Evan’s frustration is a part of something deeper than not being assigned to a project. It stemmed from the fact that an internal goal of his was not being achieved. He wanted others to give him what he wanted, and until that happened, Evan felt stuck and feared that his future was filled with boring work. But these feelings were just indicators that he needed to make a change and go deeper to discover what was behind his struggles.

Success is defined in Webster’s Dictionary as “an outcome or result; or a degree or measure of succeeding.” Success, then, is traditionally defined by outcomes, achievements, status, roles, positions, income, wealth and/or reputation. But if we determine that we are “a success” by the results, we are effectively setting ourselves up be frustrated and are making ourselves a victim of the circumstances around us. If these shallow definitions are how we identify ourselves, then many of us are destined to think of ourselves as failures.

What happens when you’ve tried everything and the result isn’t what you want? Why do we continue to struggle to achieve something that we have minimal control over (i.e. outcomes controlled by our boss or the economy) when we could, by taking some clear steps to transform our thinking, define our own success?

I have found that there are four truths that make someone truly successful.

Truth #1: Success Can’t Be Defined By Our Achievements

Achievement is tactical and transitory; it is here today and gone tomorrow. I’ve won awards all throughout my life. The shelf life of an award is, at best, a year, and the feeling of achievement from it often lasts only a couple of days.

Instead, success should be defined by creating personal goals, assessing the path we currently are on, determining how far along we are, and charting our daily progress along that path.

Earl Nightingale, a motivational speaker, said, “The more intensely we feel about an idea or a goal, the more assuredly the idea, buried deep in our subconscious, will direct us along the path to its fulfillment.”

One major problem many of us have is that there isn’t a clear direction to take in our career. Upheavals in markets, the rapid buying and selling of companies, and global competition make plotting a step-by-step career almost impossible. We face a lack of opportunities, transforming industries, and global competition.

The first step in living a life of success is identifying the path that you are on and starting to take responsibility for that path is. Then, develop honest answers to a series of questions that you must ask yourself repeatedly and often:

  • What is the logical and likely end of the path that I am on?

  • Is this the path that I want to be on? Why or why not?

  • What do I really, honestly, want in my life?

  • If my life were a blank slate, what would I add back in?

  • What compromises have I included that satisfy others in my life?

  • Which path is right for me?

  • What changes am I willing to make to get on the right path? Why?

  • What, specifically, am I going to do today, tomorrow, and this week to get on the right path?

Once we define the path we want to be on, we must make changes. But first, we need to look at something deeper. 

Truth #2: Success is Deeper than Arrival

Success is about our perseverance and character in achieving our goals. The character that you develop will guide you to success.

Madam Curie was famous for her pioneering research on radioactivity. She was the first person honored with two Nobel Prizes, both in physics and chemistry. About success, she said, “Life is not easy for any of us. But what of that? We must have perseverance and above all confidence in ourselves. We must believe that we are gifted for something, and that this thing, at whatever cost, must be attained.”

But how can we turn character into momentum and get results? Why isn’t working hard, keeping our nose to the grindstone, and being a good person enough?

When people begin to look at what they want in their career and lives, they usually start with what is lacking.

“I don’t have the status.”
“I didn’t graduate from an Ivy League school.”
“I don’t have the money.”

These are common viewpoints. We tend to look at what we want, compare it to what is lacking, and try to define our goals from our deficit. That’s an incorrect view. It implies a perfect, step-by-step plan that is, in most cases, wishful thinking and unattainable.

Rather, successful people focus on building momentum. Momentum is the energy and forward progress that will make us achieve our goals. But how do we create momentum? By building into our lives activities that we will do daily, monthly and annually that keep us moving forward while providing for enough agility to respond to the unexpected.

Examples of activities that build successful professional careers include:

  • The number of face-to-face networking events that you will attend each month that grows your personal network of key contacts.

  • The action items that you develop each week to grow your LinkedIn or Facebook contacts.

  • The annual volunteer events that you engage in that keep you focused on others in your community.

  • The types of books you read to improve your skills, engage your thinking and expand your knowledge.

  • The investments you make each year in building your career, including joining associations, attending conferences, and signing up for webinars, that get you excited about your path and connect you to others.

Truth #3: Success is about Discipline

This one is short and sweet: Whether you work 10 hours per day or are in transition at this particular time, discipline is the only way to move up and out in your career. No one else will do it for you — not your boss, your partner, your company or your community.

Truth #4: Success is about Being

Barbara De Angelis, a relationship and personal growth adviser, said, “What allow us, as human beings, to psychologically survive life on earth, with all of its pain, drama, and challenges, is a sense of purpose and meaning.”

Aside from your work life, who are you? What will people say about you? Were you a giver or a taker? Were you abundant minded or did you have a zero-sum mentality? Did you add to the experience called being human or did you take your wealth with you, fearing that you would lose it?

Success is determined by defining what is most important in your life, and prioritizing it daily. It requires that all other activities in your life must become secondary to what is most important. Success is achieved by creating boundaries that cannot be crossed — by your work, your relationship or yourself. You must know that you learn through each task that you tackle and continually press yourself towards greater challenges and experiences. And you must daily reflect, revise and renew yourself.

The measure of success isn’t whether or not things get done.

The measure of success is being aware of what you’ve learned that moves you toward where you want to be, every single day.

Karen Armon (www.MarketOneExecutive.com) is an executive-level career coach and author of the book, Market Your Potential, Not Your Past. Get her new free eBook, Ten Micro-Trends that Impact Executive Careers Today, at http://www.marketoneexecutive.com/ebook.asp.