I want to share one of the biggest career and business success secrets I've learned over the years as both a career advisor and a business owner. Society likes to tell us that success is defined by the size of your bank account. That in order for a business to be considered wildly successful, it needs to be bringing in massive amounts of money.
Certainly, we all need to pay the bills, and having extra left over for fun and future planning makes life more enjoyable and less stressful. I'm not dismissing the important practicalities of life. However, achieving financial goals is not the only valid measure of success.
My background as a career coach has taught me a big business success secret. The most dependable measure of achievement - the thing that will most reliably make you feel like a success - is doing work that fits with your core values. If your work is wildly out of line with your work values, all of the cash in the world won't make you feel like a success.
Career coaches often talk about work values. Work values are the things that are most important to you in terms of what you do both day-to-day and in the big picture of your work. Work values also refer to how you want your work to impact the kind of life you lead.
Building a business that is in line with your work values is crucial because one of the quickest roads to burnout is doing a job or running a business that is not in line with your values. On the flip side, if you feel the business you've built is in line with your values, then you are very likely to feel like a success.
It's easier to let go of day-to-day stresses when you feel good about the big picture surrounding your business.
Work values can be broken down into three fundamental categories that contribute to your feelings of business success and happiness:
The meanings of those terms: intrinsic, extrinsic, and lifestyle-based values, might not be clear, so here are some examples to clarify each of the three types of work values:
Intrinsic Work Value Example - Creative Expression
If you run a craft business, expressing yourself in a creative way is integral to the work you do. You can't design a beautiful new necklace, or formulate a fabulous soap recipe, or work out a clever new pottery technique without using your creativity. If you value creative expression, you will enjoy that element of your business whether you sell your product or not. It is a built-in part of the work activity.
Extrinsic Work Value Example - Prestige or Social Status
If you become a well known artist in your community, and you're celebrated for your impressive skill in your craft, your business will have brought you prestige or social status. This benefit is not central to the work itself. It's an added bonus that can come from it, which makes it extrinsic. If you value the idea of being a celebrated artist or artisan, then work that brings you prestige or social status in the arts community will be an extrinsic work value that is important to you.
Lifestyle-Based Values Example - Be a Homeowner
Perhaps you want to build a creative business because you're looking for a way to add extra income to your household, so you can save for a downpayment on a house. Being a homeowner is an example of how you may want to live and the kind of lifestyle you may want to achieve. If your business helps you to achieve that goal, then it is contributing to your lifestyle-based values.
Taking the time to think through and clearly define the values that you want to express or achieve through your business will help you to build the business you really want. If you have a firm grasp on the work values you want to express or achieve through your business, you'll have a reliable guide-post whenever you need to make crucial decisions about what you will and will not do within your company.
There are all kinds of work values checklists online, so I won't reproduce one here. If you do want to sit down and brainstorm your own essential work values, the career site, Monster.com has a good list to get you started. They have divided work values into intrinsic, extrinsic, and lifestyle-based factors to help you think everything through carefully.
The Monster.com checklist isn't exhaustive, but it's an excellent starting point to get your brain warmed up and thinking in the right direction. There may be other things you value related to your work, and it's perfectly fine to add those to your list.
If you want to build a business that's in line with your values, I'd suggest working through the checklist. Follow the directions on that page, and choose your top four or five work values that are most important to you.
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From your list of work values, you've selected a few that are most important to you. Now it's time to think about how those values could be reflected in your business. You might also want to think about elements of your business that could cause you to be stuck doing work that doesn't fit with your values because that can become a large source of stress.
Here are a few examples from my own list of top work values to give you some ideas and get your creative juices flowing:
Work Value - Help Others: I have always worked in helping professions in some way. I value that over making a lot of money or having work that is socially prestigious. Knowing that I've done something to make another person's life better in some way is enough to help me let go of daily stresses of work.
How That's Reflected in My Business: One of the first things I did when I began selling crafts, was to launch this website. I was learning a lot, but it wasn't easy to find the information I needed. Plus, I was fortunate to have access to some good resources and business mentors that not everyone had. I was motivated by the work value of helping others to share everything I was learning with other craft business owners.
Work Value - Express Creativity: I have a music degree, and I started my career as a music teacher. For a long time, creativity was a huge part of my work. Over time, I gradually got promoted out of the work I loved to do and ended up spending my days writing endless bureaucratic reports, which, for me, was completely out of line with my values.
How That's Reflected in My Business: Many years ago, when I was laid off from a bureaucratic job I didn't particularly like, I knew I had to get back to creative work. It was clear that the biggest thing missing from my work was an element of creative expression. That's how I ended up working in the crafts industry.
Work Value - Variety and Change: I need work that allows me to learn, grow, and do different tasks over time. In the past, I had worked for small, flat companies in which you did the job you were hired for, and there weren't a lot of other opportunities. I loved teaching music for a while, but after about 5 years of doing the same thing, I was utterly bored. The same goes for running job search workshops. I loved that for a while, but five years of running essentially the same workshop every week left me quite uninspired.
How That's Reflected in My Business: I've been building my online business for 10+ years, and I am almost never bored. Yes, there are repetitive tasks that are best done with a glass of wine in hand. However, I'm never bored with my overall work because online businesses change so rapidly, there is always something new to learn.
This week alone, I have read help articles on what I need to do to bring my site into compliance with new privacy laws, I've watched several SkillShare classes on flat lay photography to experiment with a new photo style for Instagram (Peggy Dean and Tabitha Park are two of my favorite teachers. I'll write more about what I've learned from them soon.), and I've read a book about career development for artists to see what advice a professional career counselor with a fine arts focus has to say that might be relevant to my readers. I am constantly learning, and that is important and exciting to me and totally in line with my work values.
Understanding your own work values helps you to build a picture in your mind of the life you are ideally working towards. If you take the next step, and think about how your business choices can help you create that life, you'll be in a better position to build the business you actually want that leads to your personal definition of success.
Want to know the secret to feeling like a spectacular success in business? Go and chase a goal that's firmly in line with your values.