It’s easy to get caught up in myths regarding career success that our society has imposed on us, or that we impose on ourselves. People seem to easily get caught up in thinking that the path to success is to get a college degree, take a job directly related to college major after graduation, climb the corporate ladder, earn a six-figure salary, and BAM! Success! Obviously, though, we are all different in our motivations and goals. Here are four career success myths, along with some reality, to help you envision your own idea of success, rather than get caught up in someone else's:
Myth #1: The path to success is linear.
Pick a career path, pursue directly related education, get a job in that field and success will follow. This idea of a linear career path is what many young people believe to be the formula for success. If someone is not clear on what to major in when they start college, or are unsure what to do once they graduate, they may feel like a failure because they are already diverting from the linear path.
Reality: For many “successful” professionals the path is not usually so cut and dry, rather it is a maze of testing out opportunities, failures, restarts, and moves in different directions before finding what really drives them. All of these steps add to their experience, knowledge and skills, helping them to hone in on the type of work that is most satisfying to them. People should be taught to be open to possibilities; make plans, but be open to those changing; don’t hide from mistakes, but learn from them. Life is a learning experience and successful career paths are often winding.
Myth #2: High pay equals success and happiness.
Many people are led to believe that if they choose a career with high earning potential, they will be considered successful and happiness will follow. Think about it; when you hear someone describe another person as “successful”, what do you assume they mean? Typically, they are referring to their high income. And if a job pays well enough then happiness is a given, right? Unfortunately, it doesn’t work that way. If a person seeks out a career path solely for the money, rather than because it is a strong fit with their values, skills, and interests, they are likely to find themselves unsatisfied in their work no matter how high the pay.
Reality: Money alone does not equate to happiness, and while it might help, a better belief is that assessing your career values and pursuing a career path that is a match with those values will more likely lead to happiness and feelings of success. It is better to self-assess and find a career that is a good fit with who you are, rather than just follow the money and wind up feeling stuck in a high paying job where you are unhappy, but find it difficult to walk away from the salary. Money and financial stability are definitely important to consider when evaluating careers, so be sure to see if your state has an online tool that will help you calculate your living expenses and the salary you would need to earn to pay for them, like Texas Reality Check or California's Make Money Choices.
Myth #3: You have to climb to the top of the corporate ladder to be considered successful.
A lot of professionals feel pressure to advance into management roles and continue to climb the corporate ladder in order to be considered successful. However, not only are there not enough management positions for everyone competing for them, but not everyone has a personality that thrives in management roles.
Reality: A better way of thinking is to set aside the expectations of others, and assess your goals, both professional and personal, as well as your values. You may decide that you value work-life balance, independence, and continued learning. You then must decide if a 60+ hour/week, corner office position with a large corporation will mesh well with these values. You may decide that making lateral moves and taking on new projects to develop different skills is a better fit, not only with your values, but also with your goals, both professional and personal. Many people find that although they may have the education and experience to be a manager, it is not where they find a sense of satisfaction.
Myth #4: You must have (at minimum) a bachelor’s degree to be successful.
With so many college prep high school programs, it still appears that the bachelor’s degree is considered the minimum education level needed to attain success. However, with a growing skills gap in the United States in areas that require more education than high school, but less than a four year degree, there are plenty of opportunities to find success outside of a bachelor’s degree.
Reality: People should be aware that it is possible to earn a certificate or associate’s degree from a community college or technical school in half the time and with significantly less debt than a bachelor’s degree, and with strong employment outlooks and earnings. If an individual does some self assessment and finds that they are well suited for a career that requires less than a bachelor’s degree, then they should not let the misinformed belief that they need a four-year degree to be successful stand in their way. In addition, many successful entrepreneurs do not have degrees, and recently, several major companies including Google, Apple, and IBM, are no longer requiring a college degree for some professional positions, focusing instead on skills.
It is important to define what success means to you, not to your family, friends or society. To some, success might mean a certain title or salary, but to others it could mean a career that makes a meaningful difference in the lives of others. By taking time to clarify your values and making sure job opportunities are in line with them, you are much more likely to be successful by your own definition.