how to reach the professional summit

Stephanie is in her early fifties. She has been a business consultant for twenty years and worked her way up from a junior associate all the way to one of the few female partners in her company. She lives a comfortable life and no longer need to pull all-nighters frequently just to stay “on top” of her work. Though considered rather successful by most people, she is a bit lost as to her next step. Coasting through the rest of her professional life? Early retirement? Do something different? For many years, other than working like mad, she hardly set aside time for herself. Driven by a strong desire for success and the responsibility for taking care of her family, she never entertained the possibilities of other “options.” 

Her only daughter recently graduated from college. Now that her daughter is asking her for career advice, she finds herself questioning her own professional direction. How can she provide her daughter with the best career advice? Also, what’s next for herself? 

While launching or furthering your career, knowing what success means to you will help you find greater meaning and happiness. Here are three pillars to help you define success for yourself: 

  1. Make every achievement personal and measure success against your own effort rather than any external comparison.  

If you rely on external comparison to validate your sense of success, you may obscure your own perception by comparing yourself to people who are less or more “successful” than you. Or you could be confused as you bounce between being applauded by a full room after a presentation, and being passed over at the next promotion opportunity. 

The external criteria used for comparison is frequently random. Yet, as an individual, you long for a consistent and trustworthy confirmation of your worthiness. The only reliable source has to come from you—not other people or commonly accepted social norm. 

Every person has a different starting point and different talent. So your success can only be judged against your own effort. What matters is not where you start from, or where you are today, but how hard you are working and how fast you are making progress. Someone who starts low but consistently works hard could surpass someone who starts high but only makes a mediocre effort. 

Instead of resorting to any external comparison, compare where you are today versus where you were yesterday. Keep an eye on where you want to be tomorrow, and constantly make your best effort day-after-day. Sooner than you realize, you will be surprised to find how high you have reached. 

  1. The energy and motivation that a challenge inspires in you will make it easier to reach the summit. 

Be sure not to overachieve at the expense of being able to sustain yourself mentally and physically for the next challenge.

Do not put yourself in a position where you are in the “flow” of your work and resist taking breaks for fear of falling behind. This creates burnout—plain and simple. 

You may find yourself at a critical junction that taking a break means failure and render void your previous efforts. But you have to remember, your ultimate goal, your ultimate success, is much further than the goal in front of you. The journey is a long marathon, and the finish line is further than you can see. Keep in mind: even though sprinting to reach that immediate goal in front of you right now may appear to be the most important task, it’s just a very small step in the long journey. 

What can you do to prepare yourself for the long-haul to success? What can you do today so you will be better prepared when you face another “critical” moment tomorrow? By taking care of some important—but not yet urgent—issues today, you could avoid making every important issue today an urgent problem in the future. In business, that’s what risk management is for; in combat or competition, that’s what training and rehearsal is for; in your daily life, that’s what learning and taking care of your health and your relationships is for. 

  1. Success is a journey of constant searching and reconnecting with purpose. 

Any achievement, no matter how significant it may be, is just a point on this journey. You will have many opportunities for success.

While the only criterion to evaluate your success has to come from within and the journey to success is a long marathon, you still need some “target,” right? 

Common goals include reaching a certain number in revenue, scoring a certain position in an organization, or attaining a certain rank in your profession. However, you need to understand that each of those goals is just a point on your journey to success. Those points themselves are not the ultimate success you are pursuing. Just like the measurement of success comes from within, the goal also needs to connect to something within yourself. 

The most important question is why? Why are you in this business? Why are you pursuing in your profession? What does reaching those goals mean to you, to your family, to your community? What is the ultimate “goal” you are trying to reach beyond those “points”? 

You have to dig deeper to understand your internal drivers, and discover the purpose of your life. Once you “know” the purpose you are serving or pursuing, it will be easier to see how those “points” on your journey connect and where you are heading. Let your purpose be the guide posts on your journey. You will never feel lost no matter if you succeed or fail at reaching that immediate next point, because you always know how to find the next guide post and you know where you are heading to in the future. 

Be prepared to go beyond the immediate goal or achievement. Too often we sacrifice long-term success for short-term goals. There are always new summits and new goals. You will reach further faster if you look beyond the summit just in front of you. 

About the Author 

Lei Wang is an internationally-recognized adventurer, motivational speaker, and author of After the Summit: New Rules for Reaching Your Peak Potential in Your Career and Life. The first Asian woman to complete Explorers Grand Slam (climb the highest peak on each continent and ski to both poles), Lei channels her experiences to convey a message of perseverance and steadfast determination that her audiences can use at work or at home. For more information about Lei Wang, please visit www.JourneyWithLei.com.