4 Stages of a Successful Career

Even as the idea of a traditional career changes, you should plan to experience these four stages.

By + More

Tim Tyrell-Smith
Looking forward, you may wonder where your career will take you, which roles you’ll play, and the impression you’ll leave on the world.

While we don’t know exactly how the idea of a career will change over the coming years, we know this:

Careers are changing

Some argue that we should no longer expect a traditional career, that work life will be more of journey through a maze of different funding sources, rather than sticking with a few big companies. It’s also possible that, at some point, you’ll find yourself facing a big career change.

But no matter how you successful you become in your career, you should plan to experience four stages:

1. Training and Development

For some of us, this will be a trial by fire. You may begin your career as an entrepreneur. If so, your training will come with abrupt experiences, including the pressure to figure it all out quickly.

[See How Job Seekers Can Build Their Online Brand.]

Others will start more traditionally, in a lower-pressure environment that allows the experience to slowly wash over you. Your development will come through absorption and example via internships, junior positions, and a progression of new responsibilities.

The key with the training stage is finding constant exposure to new ideas and methods, and having people around you who can put this exposure into context.

You’ll want to be adventurous. Allow for failure, and see and experience your work from as many different angles as possible.

2. Success

Success is difficult to define, so we must do this individually. But for many of us, it means reaching a milestone, maybe a certain salary or title.

For you it might be the picket fence and a few kids. For others, it’s the freedom to travel the world three to four weeks each year.

Success can also be defined as the moment you finally figure out what you really want to do with your life, after years of making money but not finding happiness at work.

But, at some point, you will be established. People will count on you. Because you are good at what you do.

[See Expand Your Career Potential.]

3. Significance

This is about adjusting your work and life mindset. It can also include a change in the work you do. But primarily, it’s about changing the focus of your work so it helps people, builds communities, or propels the world forward in some other positive way.

Moving from success to significance is an important stage of a successful career. Because while you can certainly finish a career without this stage, the inclusion of it opens the door to the fourth stage, and often helps you become a person of influence.

That means you’ll have an interest in and excitement for contributing to the world, long after the government suggests it’s time to stop.

[For more career advice, visit U.S. News Careers, or find us on Facebook or Twitter.]

4. Continuation

The most successful career used to end at age 55, on a beach somewhere in Florida or golf course in Palm Springs. You made your money, planned well for your retirement, and succeeded by getting out early.

But as our work life continues to blend with our home life, this is less the case. A successful career now will more likely continue in some form—because you want it to continue. And because your work is a permanent part of your life and needn’t stop simply because you reach an artificial age.

If you build a career (or transition to one) based on something you enjoy and believe in, there’s no reason why this stimulus can‘t keep you creating and producing for years beyond traditional retirement age.

Especially if you are helping others at the same time.

Tim Tyrell-Smith is founder of Tim's Strategy, a site that helps professionals succeed in job search, career and life strategy. Follow Tim on Twitter, @TimsStrategy, and share his 30 Ideas Book with job-seeking friends.