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How do you determine your success?

What does success mean to you on a personal level? It’s easy to get swept up by the idea of a grand salary or an important title but, if you want to be really successful, what matters most is finding a career that motives and enriches you.

We spoke to two academics whose personal measures of success are less about material gains and more about making a contribution to society.

Defining success

Associate Professor Raylene Cooke, from Deakin University’s School of Life and Environmental Sciences, is very aware success has different meanings for different people. ‘I believe success is measured by a sense of personal achievement and satisfaction,’ she says. ‘The notion of feeling good and making others feel good is a big driver of success for me.’

While many people judge success through material measures, Assoc. Prof. Cooke says all the money in the world cannot buy happiness. ‘If you are not happy in what you are doing then I don’t think you can call this success, at either the professional or personal level,’ she says.

Professor Beth Crisp, from Deakin’s School of Health and Social Development, says her idea of career success is making a difference to people’s lives. ‘That is much more important to me than saying I need X amount of money or I drive X car,’ she explains. ‘Success is about making a difference and making the world a better place.’

Relationships are also a key part of success. ‘Most of what I do involves collaborating with a team of people,’ Prof. Crisp explains. ‘It’s not just the heroic efforts of one person. Success for me is that I work as part of a team – and lead a team – that makes a difference.’

Prof. Crisp says another element of success has been having her work recognised. ‘Most of my work is in the academic sphere so it’s important to me as an academic that I make a contribution to the way social workers think and social work practice occurs,’ she says.

Taking the time to experiment

Finding a career that matches your values might not be instantaneous. ‘As an 18-year-old finishing VCE I didn’t really know what I wanted to do as a career but I did know that I wanted to work with people,’ Assoc. Prof. Cooke says.

Undecided on whether to become a police office or a teacher, Assoc. Prof. Cooke took a gap year to try to work it out. ‘I had a strong interest in wildlife conservation and the natural world and after my gap year I decided to follow the education pathway with a strong focus on environmental science,’ she says. ‘I don’t think it was a conscious decision to choose a career that would contribute to society but more a decision based on what I thought would make me happy, and that was working with people and helping them to get the best out of themselves.’

'Success is about making a difference and making the world a better place.'

Professor Beth Crisp,
School of Health and Social Development, Deakin University

Finding success through passion

Assoc. Prof. Cooke says considering your interests and motivations is an essential part of finding career direction. ‘If you can combine these into a career then you are on the track to your dream job,’ she explains. ‘If money is your number one driver then you run the risk of spending the majority of your day doing something you don’t actually like doing – life is way too short to spend it doing something you don’t love.’

‘I absolutely love my job because it continually challenges me and it combines both my love of working with people and working to conserve wildlife,’ Assoc. Prof. Cooke says.

Staying close to her interests was similarly important to Prof. Crisp. ‘I had always been involved in a lot of political activism,’ she explains. ‘I saw social work as a way of enabling me to have a career where my passion for human rights and social justice could be incorporated into my work.’

In addition to her political activism, Prof. Crisp took her capacity for creativity into account as well.

‘Social work is a career that has always allowed me to be creative,’ she says. ‘Not just doing what has always been done but developing new ways of responding to individuals and communities needs whether it be at a policy level or a community level or an individual level.’

Satisfaction and rewards

For Prof. Crisp the social work field offers a great deal of job satisfaction. ‘The work we do as social workers so often has a positive influence on people’s lives,’ she says. ‘Sometimes even a brief conversation means you are linking someone with the resources they need or you are helping someone reconceptualise their situation in a way that enables them to move on.’

At a societal level, Prof. Crisp gets satisfaction from being able to see how communities can work together to create change whether in local communities or through social policy. ‘Social workers are involved in all of those areas,’ she says. ‘Social work involves trying to make the world a better place and while it’s often slow, we actually see the results.’

Assoc. Prof. Cooke has found a similar level of career satisfaction. ‘I am extremely grateful to be working in a field that I get to be contributing to wildlife conservation, outdoors in nature, with students doing amazing things,’ she says. ‘The opportunity to teach and inspire others, who can then go on and change the world for the better, is the ultimate job satisfaction for me.’

Following your values towards a career that you feel passionate about is a sure-fire way to find genuine success. ‘Without a doubt the most important consideration when choosing a career is loving what you do,’ Assoc. Prof. Cooke says. ‘If going to work is a drag and you can’t wait for the weekend then you are in the wrong career.’

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Associate Professor Raylene Cooke
Associate Professor Raylene Cooke

School of Life and Environmental Sciences, Deakin University

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Professor Beth Crisp
Professor Beth Crisp

School of Health and Social Development, Deakin University

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