8 Signs of a Successful Career That Have Nothing to Do With Money or Status

We’re living in a unique time in history when it comes to careers.

The definition of the word itself continues to change. With innovation and technology, entire industries are both appearing and disappearing.

While some people feel great satisfaction and a sense of opportunity about work,  others feel trapped in their roles. So, how do you build a career that provides meaningful benefits aside from the obvious benefit of making money?

In this post, we dive into some non-monetary signs that you’re on the right career path and provide recommendations to keep improving your career over time.


You’re working to become great at what you do

In his book, So Good They Can’t Ignore You, the author Cal Newport argues that finding a job that makes you feel passionate is the wrong way to go about finding your passion. Instead, get good at a skill first and watch the passion come second.

Passion comes after you put in the hard work to become excellent at something valuable, not before. In other words, what you do for a living is much less important than how you do it.

As you move forward in your career, you can focus on building “career capital.”

Career capital comes from developing rare skill sets and gaining competence in these skills. If you’re one of the few people who can do a certain skill really well, you can gain more freedom, autonomy, and income as a byproduct.

But the income itself isn’t the point. You’ll have a level of pride and a sense of meaning that comes from taking the time to get good at something.

You’ll also get to enjoy many non-financial benefits, one of which I’m going to talk about in the next point.


You have flexibility and autonomy

Money doesn’t buy happiness. Studies have shown that happiness actually levels off at about $75,000 a year. But there are certain factors that increase our sense of well-being and job satisfaction.

When you feel great about your work and you’re satisfied with what you do for a living, you’re more motivated to keep getting better. This is great for companies too because having motivated employees helps foster great company culture, retains employees longer, and ultimately leads to providing better products and services.

So how do you motivate your employees? How can employees get a sense of meaning from their work? A pulse survey is a great way to show your team how much they matter in the company. Tools like this allow you to spot issues, avoid burnout, and give your people a voice. Both parties can work together to create a work environment that drives success.

Daniel Pink discusses this sense of drive and motivation in his book on the subject:

Human beings have an innate inner drive to be autonomous, self-determined, and connected to one another. And when that drive is liberated, people achieve more and live richer lives.

If you’re an employee, you can “manage up” and discuss ways that you can have more freedom in your role. If the company culture isn’t a good fit long-term, you can make a switch to a company that does have focus on autonomy. For the ultimate sense of autonomy, you can start your own business.


You’re excited to show up for work

If you’re accomplishing both of the points above, you’re probably someone who’s excited to go to work every day. If not, both of the aforementioned points will help you get there.

At the end of the day, the emotions you feel about your work matter. Your relationship with your work has a cascading effect on the other areas in your life.

Excitement and satisfaction with your work can lead to the inspiration that drives you to adopt a bunch of other positive habits. On the flip side, people who find their work draining can adopt negative habits to cope with their work like succumbing to different vices.

You want to have the same feeling as Warren Buffet, who says he “tap dances to work” every single day.  Even if you don’t have a career you love right now there are steps you can take to create excitement for your current work and build a bridge to better work in the future.

  • Look at every job as a chance to build valuable skills you can use in the future
  • Find a sense of pride in staying positive and working hard regardless of your role
  • Understand that your attitude carries over to your future


You’re a learning machine

In the information age, people who succeed in their careers never stop learning. You want to evolve as your industry involves. In general, learning a lot about many different subjects gives you a mental edge within your own industry.

Charlie Munger, successful investor and partner to Warren Buffet, talks about this:

You’ve got to have models in your head. And you’ve got to array your experience—both vicarious and direct—on this latticework of models.

When you learn and adopt these different mental models, you can make smarter decisions because you have access to insights people who only study their own industry don’t. This gives you an edge when it comes to dealing with competition, whether you own your own business or are trying to compete for better jobs.

There is access to so many tools in 2021 and beyond that can teach you in-demand career and business skills. From books to free content online, paid online courses, coaching, and more, you can learn a ton of different skills you can use to create your own tailor-made career.


Your work environment makes you feel good

Your career can provide a great sense of excitement and joy. It can also become a major source of stress. This is where your work environment comes in. No career is perfect, but you want to put yourself in an environment that has a net positive effect.

Many factors can influence your environment:

  • Company culture
  • Relationships with co-workers, management, and leadership
  • The location of your job (see the explosion of remote work as a case study)
  • The nature of your work or profession
  • The choice between whether to work for a company or work for yourself

The list goes on, but the point is that your environment has a major impact on your life as a whole, not just your career. You should treat it with the respect and care that it deserves.


You’re working on creating a career that suits you

Speaking of the word career, there are a ton of different ways to define the word. You can be an employee at a company. You can own a business. And you can do both at the same time. In fact, one of the best ways to build a business is to do it on the side while you’re working at a 9 to 5 job.

You can work in a variety of different ways from doing one-off freelance projects, contracting with companies for periods of time, selling products, creating content, and more. You don’t have to be tied down to one way of making a living and one path to reaching your career goals.

Angel investor Naval Ravikant had this to say:

The internet has massively broadened the possible space of careers.

With the power of the internet and the ability to not just learn new skills quickly, but connect with others who value those skills, you can create a career path that has never existed out of thin air.

You can choose the projects you want to work on. Because you’ve developed an array of skills and have mental models under your belt, your leverage and flexibility continue to increase.

Most important, you get to live and work on your terms.


You build a lifestyle that isn’t all about work

So many people end up spending nearly all of their time working with little left over to enjoy themselves. With a commute back and forth to work, getting ready, and working an 8 hour day, you’re looking at up to 10 hours focused on work.

Some people have jobs so demanding that they take their work home with them. Others are stuck in roles they don’t enjoy but have to work massive hours to make ends meet.

So what’s the solution to all of this? This is where the idea of taking the time to build rare skills, develop competency, tailor your career, and become a learning machine tie together.

When you combine these elements, you ultimately create a career where you get to spend time doing what you love but you also get to pump the brakes and enjoy your life when need be.

The more control you have over your career, the less you have to work. You can love work and want to work, but having an overly demanding career where you feel like you’re forced to work won’t make you happy even if you make a lot of money.

Work is an important part of life, but if you focus on it too much you’ll miss out on many of the other simple pleasures life provides.


You feel like you’re making an impact

You want to feel like the work you do matters. You’re a human being, so you have the sense that you want to serve a purpose bigger than yourself. And you want to avoid feeling like you’re wasting your life away doing unimportant work.

You can define important in a number of different ways that have nothing to do with how much you make. Sometimes, it has nothing to do with the job or career itself, but your interpretation of what you’re doing.

For example, in the book The 10x Rule, author Grant Cardone talks about a job he had at McDonald’s in his early 20s. In his eyes, he was just flipping burgers to make a quick buck. One of his co-workers, who was the same age, planned on owning a McDonald’s franchise in the future. He wasn’t looking to make a quick buck, he was studying the business from the ground up.

His co-worker went on to own several McDonald’s franchises. For some, owning restaurants that serve low quality food doesn’t feel like making an impact, but owning a business that employs people and helps younger adults gain work experience could be seen that way. It’s all a matter of interpretation.

Your sense of purpose doesn’t have to come from pure ambition. Being a stay at home parent that brings in zero income can be a valuable and truly meaningful career.

It’s not always about what you do, but rather why you do it and how you do it.