What Is Career Success?

My father’s passing recently made me think deeply about - What is Career Success? At the time of his retirement 15 years ago, Pa (that’s how we greet him) had served more than 30 years with the government of Malaysia.

First as a teacher and then promoted as a headmaster at a primary school (principal of an elementary school in some countries). He has only served 2 schools, one was Saint Andrew’s in Muar, Malaysia and another at Monfort Primary School, Batu Pahat, Malaysia.

In the context of someone who served as a civil servant for more than 30 years with one employer – the government and only served in 2 schools - what is career success? Did Pa achieve career success? In our (his family) opinion he did.

We never quite got to asking him if he considered himself achieving career success. We wonder what is career success to him?

This article is not intended to provide any answers for you. It merely acts as an article of reflection, perhaps for you to also think what is career success to you?

Sure, Pa came from a different era having started his career in education in the 60s. Yet, we feel some parameters used to gauge career success cannot be that different from one era to another.

Highest Rank You Can Go?
Can career success mean getting promoted as high as you can get? In that case, Pa did not quite achieve it. He was a teacher and later on went on to become a headmaster. That was it. Later in his career he was offered a chance to be promoted as a school invigilator but turned it down. He was never promoted since and we are not sure if he kept turning away these chances. According to our mother, he loved his school and kids too much to give up his position even if it means a promotion.

Love of the Job?
So, what is career success? Can career success mean a deep love for your career then? In this case, I suppose Pa did achieve success. He truly loved his job, often staying way beyond the required hours and sending students home when their transport did not turn up. He was also known as the headmaster who picked up rubbish outside the boundaries of his school where students would gather. He always told us, as an educator it was his job to lead and teach by example.

Respect from Peers, Subordinates and Industry?
What is career success if one does not get any respect from your peers, subordinates and the industry? In this case, Pa did achieve it - especially from his staff, his students and the ‘industry’ as a whole. While we had an inkling that Pa is a respected figure, we never knew the impact he had until his retirement when one day a friend of mine send me a link to a forum about the happenings in town and how some of the students missed him. Pa read it with fondness and pride twinkled in his eyes.

At his wake, students from a far turned up. People whom we do not know of cried and related stories about his impact on them; we received emails from students Pa taught in the 60s who are now grandparents themselves.

Money or Legacy?
If career success is determined by the amount of money one makes then wouldn’t that rule out many people who had great careers but did not make a lot of money? Using this standard, then Pa did not achieve much. After all, civil servants aren’t known to be paid much.

But legacy is a different story. He had left behind a school with a great reputation of churning out good students. When thinking of what is career success for yourself, ask what legacy will you leave behind?

Best that You Can Be?
Can career success mean being the best you can be? We think it can and it should. Pa was the best headmaster he can be. He sacrificed personal time and effort into making sure his school and students became the best that it can offer. In his pursuit of excellence for others, he excelled as a headmaster.

Regardless of your choice of career, be the best you can be.

Purpose in Life?
Can your career also be your purpose in life? Or can you weave your purpose in life into your career? In our father, we saw this. Pa had always valued people’s potential.

He often told us, one generation must be better than the next. "You guys must be better qualified than me". He never went to college but his 3 sons did. One even made it to post doctorate at Harvard University. Another, to masters degree.

In his students, he made it his purpose in life to churn out as many good citizens as possible regardless of race, creed or religion. He was respected by all. He made it his purpose in life to see that each generation was better than another. And he started it in his own way in a small school in a tiny cranny of the world.

What is career success? It probably means a combination of some of these factors. No one can truly tell you what career success means to you. I hope we can all learn some of these lessons from a headmaster who has once passed this way.


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