What does it mean to have a successful career? What does it take to build one? Why can one lawyer or nail technician or performing artist charge you one price and yet another can charge you an exorbitant fee for the exact same bit of work? Throughout this series we will be exploring ‘the world of work’ and what it takes to build a successful career. My name is Zola and if you’re reading this then you are exactly the kind of mind I hope will benefit immensely from the upcoming series of articles.
Maybe you’ve just finished high school and are considering what to study for your future career. Or maybe you’ve just completed your higher education and are looking for a job or are about to enter into employment. Perhaps, you are already working in an unfulfilling job position and are looking to excel at work or even begin working towards your dream career. No matter your starting point, one critical truth remains: it won’t happen by mistake, luck or chance! You create your own success.
Of course, we are all starting from different points in life and in our careers, so naturally, some information may be relevant to you and some may not. Either way, you will be all the better for knowing more, because a big part of building a successful career comes from being knowledgeable about other careers too (insert cheesy quote about knowledge is power).
First, let us begin with some basic definitions: what is a career?
Any quest for a singular and absolute definition is folly (hai sekgoa man!), and thus we find ourselves with more than one textual definition for the term career. A ‘thin’ version offers a simplified but vital understanding: a career is “…an occupation undertaken for a significant period of a person’s life and with opportunities for progress”.
Another iteration defines a career as “… the time spent by a person while committed to a particular profession”.
A fuller, more substantive definition offered by the business dictionary says that a career is “[t]he progress and actions taken by a person throughout a lifetime, especially those related to that person’s occupations”.
What you may notice in these (and every other) definitions is that time is the foundation of a successful career. A career is not the same as a job, which can loosely be thought of as a set of tasks or a piece of work done to complete a short-term or immediate goal. Essentially, a career is a long-term commitment to progress in what you do. Progress is improvement in quality, guided by planning and fuelled by consistent effort.
These elements are important – they are at the core of any successful career. You must understand that you are not only building a career for yourself, you are also building value for the world. People like to pay for value and that is why, even though there are many other lawyers, many nail technicians or many performing artists, you can name your price for the value you have created.
Now that we have a ‘meeting of the minds’ – a point of common understanding – we can begin to discuss the many aspects, both the personal and the professional, that may follow. We will take a look at the big picture to gain a better sense of where your chosen career path may lay in the global economy and what skills and expertise you will need to be globally competitive. Next, we will take a look at different cultural contexts, and the effect that personal identity has when choosing a career. At the end of each topic, we will go over some very practical steps and strategies to help you build a career designed for success.
Zola Valashiya is an international debater, a critical thinker and an inspired writer. He is a Brightest Young Minds alumni (BYM 2012), a Mandela Rhodes Scholar (2015), a YALI Mandela Washington Fellow (2017) and is considered one of South Africa’s most influential young people, listed in Mail & Guardian’s Top 200 Young South Africans (2017). He is also a Barer Scholar (2019) from the University of Washington, USA.