What does success mean to you? It’s an interesting question to ask yourself from time to time – especially when you’re considering returning to work after a career break.

Often we judge how successful others are in their career by looking at their salary level or how far they’ve progressed up the corporate ladder. If you’ve taken a long break and so haven’t progressed as far as your peers who didn’t step off the career ladder, it’s easy to label yourself as ‘less successful’.

However, research shows that the majority of people tend to use more subjective measures when judging their own success. A classic study* by Jane Sturges found that factors such as enjoyment, accomplishment, influence, expertise and personal recognition rated highly in a group of managers’ descriptions of what success meant to them. For all of the women in the study, the content of the job was rated as more important than pay or status. Some people considered how effectively they balanced their work and home life as a key measure of success – a definite marker of success in our view but one we rarely hear or speak about.

Defining what success means to you can help you to feel more positive about the choices you have made in your career/life to date, and can point you in the right direction for the future.

Ideas to clarify what success looks like for you

1. Fast-forward
A useful exercise is to mentally fast-forward to your 70th birthday. To put yourself in the right frame of mind, imagine who is there with you, where you are, even what you’re wearing. Now imagine you’re giving a speech discussing what you’re proud of having achieved in your career and – most importantly – in your life as a whole. What comes to mind? What will make you feel you have succeeded in your life? Write down whatever comes to mind and you’ll have a good starting point for developing your own personal view of success

2. Think-back
Consider the proudest achievements in your life. What were the moments that made you feel really good about yourself? Can you see any common themes? Could these past accomplishments help you define what success will look like in the future? Has your perspective changed during your career break?

Once you’ve decided what success means to you, you may find yourself stuck on how to get there. Read our blog on the various routes back to work for ideas.

And don’t forget to build your self-efficacy so that you believe you can succeed!

*What it means to succeed – Jane Sturges (1999)

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