A successful view on career success

The link between holistic career values and life satisfaction

A successful view on career success

Some time ago, I started to look into career values earlier for a different article on purpose-driven work. I ended up writing about creating your own career and employee engagement. During this search for studies, I came across an article on holistic career values. For 2 weeks it was open on my desktop, ready to be read. Yesterday I finally tackled it.

Reading the article taught me about the conservation of resource theory, a theory about stress. This led to studies on career self-management, an interesting topic for another newsletter. It seems to go well with alternative work arrangements and boundaryless careers. But that’s another story.

Why this picture? The circle represents the different aspects of your life. It’s all interdependent and connected. Your life is not several boxes (work, family, friends, etc) that do not impact each other, but a continuous switching from one context (e.g., work) to another (e.g., family). The circle represents this endless and seamless switch. The sea that is depicted inside the circle stands for the endless opportunities and events life throws at you.

Key points

  • Your definition of career success should include all elements of your life: Family, career, personal life
  • Careers are not bound by organizations or space. Careers are bound by personal values
  • Your values guide you and influence the resources you have

(holistic) career values: What do you want to get out of your (professional) life?

Your career values describe what you find important in your professional work. It is a set of adjectives or other descriptives that help you decide not only what type of work you want to do, but also what type of attitudes and behaviors should be part of your work. For example, how important is competition for you? Is a ranking of high and low performers more important for you than cooperation or altruism?

Your career perceptions do not only impact your career, but also your life choices, and your view of what it means to have a successful life. I'll always remember the young lady I met in Chicago who said that she didn't want to have kids because she wanted to have a life. She's now working at an elite US university. This is in line with her career values.

Some scholars argue and provide empirical evidence that a definition of success that center on career, neglecting family, and personal life, will result in lower life satisfaction. They argue that people should have holistic career values. These are career values that include family life. Holistic career values acknowledge that life exists outside of work and that success in one area has an impact on success in another area of life. People with holistic career values consider how one area of their life impacts other areas of their life.

The young lady who I met many years ago thought that a successful career was incompatible with having children. Thus she was aware of the relationship between work and family. You could see herself as selfish, only wanting a successful career. Or you could see herself as compassionate, as she knew that her job will demand too much time from her, not giving her the chance to raise children according to her high performance standards. She spared her children the experience of a not-fully-present mother.

Career values as a stress buffer

The importance of holistic career goals becomes clearer if we include stress in the discussion. The Conservation of Resources is a theoretical model of how people process stress. The basic assumption of this theory is that people seek a life full of pleasure and success. Thus, people want to be happy. Based on this assumption, stress is

  • a threat to current happiness
  • the reduction of happiness,
  • the failed attempt to increase happiness

Happiness is achieved thanks to diverse resources. Resources are defined as objects (e.g., house, computer), personal characteristics (e.g., self-esteem), conditions (e.g., marriage, tenure, seniority) or energies (e.g., time, knowledge, money).

Of course, your relationships, so your friends and family, are also a resource. But they can have a positive or negative influence on your ability to gain or preserve your resources. A friend can help you finish your work (preserve your energy resource), or can distract you from your work (deplete your energy resource). This is even clearer when adopting a social network perspective.

The values you have influence what resources you have available to deal with stress and create a successful life. If your career values neglect your personal well-being and your family life, you will amass resources that only help you with achieving happiness in your career. This will leave you with fewer resources and thus a smaller stress buffer.

On the other hand, holistic career values provide you with a greater stress buffer, as they help you maintain the necessary resources to have a successful professional and private life.

If my holistic career values are working on challenging tasks, a variety of projects and interests that push me to learn new skills, the time and money to show my children the world, and the freedom to move, I need to build a career that gives me diverse work, but also make sure that work does not take over my time, or limits my freedom and autonomy to be a working single parent.

Final words

Every time I think about the young lady who didn’t see a space for children in her life, I'm stung with sadness and a lack of understanding.  But she made a conscious decision, maybe naïve given her young age, to plan her life and consider the different interdependent elements. Of course, her decision was also influenced by her upbringing and the way she perceived her mother’s success. In a way, this young lady has spent more time planning her future than I did at her age. The importance of holistic career values is to have career values that go beyond your professional self and take you, the private person, into account. And that she did.

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  • Eldor, L., Westring, A. F., & Friedman, S. D. (2020). The Indirect Effect of Holistic Career Values on Work Engagement: A Longitudinal Study Spanning Two Decades. Applied Psychology: Health and Well-Being, 12(1), 144–165. https://doi.org/10.1111/aphw.12177
  • Greenhaus, J. H., & Kossek, E. E. (2014). The Contemporary Career: A Work–Home Perspective. Annual Review of Organizational Psychology and Organizational Behavior, 1(1), 361–388. https://doi.org/10.1146/annurev-orgpsych-031413-091324
  • Hobfoll, S. E. (1989). Conservation of resources: A new attempt at conceptualizing stress. American Psychologist, 44(3), 513–524. https://doi.org/10.1037/0003-066X.44.3.513
  • Photo by Erlend Ekseth on Unsplash

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