Changing my idea of what success looks like

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There is a certain type of thinking each of us needs to do in order to identify the right job and work scenario for ourselves. My approach to thinking through this might not work for everyone – a lot of it focuses on past experiences and what I don’t want – but often, I feel that people move from job to job throughout their careers without thinking about what knobs they need to turn to make their work time more pleasant. Here’s how I decided what I needed to be a happy professional.

I used to think that success was about climbing the corporate ladder. I could point to people who held my professional fate in their hands and swear that if I ever got to stand in their shoes, I would feel successful.

I’ve pretty much given up that way of thinking for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that the workplace is changing. But before I get into that…

Has anyone ever asked you whether you would rather be prettier, richer, smarter or happier? It’s one of those get-to-know-you questions. I know there is no one right answer, but I can’t imagine anyone picking something other than “happier”. But they do. Most of the time. Maybe people pick the thing they feel they need to work hardest at. For me, being happy is being successful. Happiness is the goal.

Of course happiness isn’t a job title. And for some, managing progressively larger organizations or focusing on more strategic work makes them happier. So moving up the traditional career ladder might be just the ticket for them. It just doesn’t work that way for me. The thing I care about, which in abundance makes me happy, is time. I can always find difficult problems to solve and ways to be creative. What I cannot do is manufacture time – time to read, meditate or cook, or explore a new hobby. And so perhaps in its absence, more time (or well-used time) is the thing that makes me happiest.

People disrespecting my time or having to sit through meetings that aren’t relevant to my work, these are things that I find incredibly challenging. It’s all because I see them as poor uses of time; time I could be using to do something that brings me joy. So my view of success has me in control of my own time. This is one of the things I have learned about myself while trying to work out how to be a happier person in life.

Control of my environment is another factor in my happy work formula. I am a classic introvert. Yeah, I know if you’ve met me you can’t tell.  But if you’ve been around me when I am on a team work trip or a party I can’t leave, you’ll recall the look on my face that says I need to escape. I have to mentally check out. I am no longer there and I am miserable. Being in environments with lots of people or lots of noise completely taps my energy. So as I am building this vision of my happy work place, a solitary environment (or at least a place I can escape to) is part of it.

Another element needed to make me feel happy at work is the feeling that I am creating something. I LOVE to build things from scratch. It’s why I have had so much fun helping small business develop their digital brand footprint and it’s why I love helping Amazon create marketing and tools that attract future employees. I am building new stuff all the time.

So you might wonder what all this happy-making has to do with feeling successful. Well, at least for me, it turned out that creating a career where I have all of the things that make me happy- control of my time and environment and the opportunity to build stuff- is what finally made me feel successful. It wasn’t having that Microsoft blog with the press attention or speaking at industry events. It wasn’t promotions or titles. I mean, don’t get me wrong, those things are nice. But for me, I could never feel successful because I wasn’t in ultimate control and wasn’t able to create the space I needed to do my best work. Once I had the situation I wanted, all of that angst over moving up the ladder disappeared. Because I had what I really wanted.

So I mentioned before that the world of work is changing. I think that there is so much opportunity for people with alternative work styles like my own. Introversion is being discussed, not as a weakness, but as a way of being. And I recently heard an executive speaking about how to create a work situation that is more amenable to those of us on the introversion spectrum. As the economy shifts toward more alternative and freelance work arrangements, I think there is an opportunity for people like me who struggled with some aspects of corporate life (Meetings! Morale events and offsites! Career discussions!) to find themselves and discover a completely different version of success than they had imagined before. This feeling of finally finding the right spot was an unexpected side effect of leaving corporate life. And the (I admit it) fear and struggle I experienced creating this career was totally worth it. And it feels like the pressure is off and. Now I just get to have fun.