What does it take to be successful at work? It depends on so many factors, including what you want out of your career. When you're in your 20s, you might still be playing around and experimenting with various career paths and trying to find one that you're interested in.
And when you're a little older, you may look to get more out of your career — a feeling of fulfillment, like it's truly the right fit. “Take stock if you're not happy with your path," Marc Cenedella, the founder and CEO of Ladders tells Bustle. "If you change industries or functions, you may be starting out lower, or even at the beginning, so you'll need to weigh that. But don't think it's too late if you've discovered your passion and interests lie elsewhere."
But ultimately, success is going to look — and feel — different to everyone. And that's totally OK. To get a sense of just how different success can look to different people, 16 women below share the moment when they first felt truly successful at work. You may see yourself in some of them — or none of them — because everybody's relationship to success in their career is incredibly different.
1. Jennifer, 38 — Resume Writing Services
"I'm a serial entrepreneur and co-founder of Resume Writing Services. Before that, I worked in Wall Street as a job recruiter. [T]he first time I truly felt successful at work was when my new business, Resume Writing Services, finally got its first customer. The moment was incredibly fulfilling because it proved that hard work does really pay off. Even more importantly, it made me believe that I really could do it. I really could start my own business where I help job seekers write their resumes and get a job. Even after many years have passed, I still remember this moment as well as the exchanges I had with my first client."
2. Jennifer, 42 — Zaranis Administrative Services
"I have worked for the corporate world for over 25 years. ... I like any other person dreaded the regular 9-5 scenario and was longing for something that I would enjoy doing ... I decided to look online and found a job as a petsitter. So I worked with the company for two years, until one day a pet I was taking care of became ill and the dog owner sent an email to the owner, which I was copied on asking if we would provide services in assisting the elderly dog in getting up and down. The owner of the company stated that we didn't provide such a service.
When I read this email I was completely shocked, I for one, didn't have a problem helping the dog, I treated the animal like it was my own so I replied back to the owner and said, I don't have a problem helping Snoopy (the dog's name) the owner said, would you have a problem if I just straight out hired you directly? I was shocked and said sure. That's when I opened my own pet care company.
Word spread out fast in our community about my pet care services to the point that my husband joined me in caring for pets. Over 10 years, my husband and I served over 275 pets. The company became a six-digit company in a matter of the first two years alone."
3. Rebekka, 24 — Professional Cuddle Therapist & The Founder of Nordic Cuddle
“Starting my own cuddle therapy company has been one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever done in my life. Cuddle therapy can be an extremely rewarding career choice, given how beneficial it is for clients. The first time I felt successful was when I received feedback from one of my clients who said that 'your hugs have given me my magic back and for that I am eternally grateful,' as I could see then just what an impact my work had on people’s lives.”
4. Veronica, 36 — GM Of LovePop Weddings
"The first time I felt successful at work was when I was an Associate Channel Manager at Creative Converting. My job was to manage all the seasonal programs for [a major retail store]. I pitched a napkin with Santa on it that said 'White Hair Don't Care' and has Santa with sunglasses on it. My boss totally didn't get it but let me bring in the prototype. The first thing the buyer did upon entering our room was gravitate to my napkin. When my napkin popped up all over [the company's] stores and my friends starting taking selfies with my product I felt SO successful."
5. Libby, Early 30s — VP Membership at SoFi
"The first time I ever felt successful at work was in my first job after graduating from college, while working at [a tech company]. My senior year at UC Berkeley, I read every book I could find about 'how to be a success at work' — and took all of the advice very seriously. I showed up early, stayed late, took a proactive approach, worked diligently on my projects, and even welcomed new ones that were outside of my direct scope of work but important to the business. After eight months on the job, I had the opportunity to report directly to the org president. I knew she was whip smart, a quick decision maker, and tough — but fair. I jumped in and made the most of the opportunity, immersing myself in the day-to-day work while also observing how this executive ran her business, interacted cross-functionally, and motivated her own teams.
My early exposure to a successful woman leader was deeply impactful. At the end of the quarter, the org president called me into her office and gave me the 'Going Beyond' Leadership Award for my work on the team. It even came with a monetary spot bonus, too (yes!). At that moment, I distinctly recall my first feeling of success at work, which made me instantly more confident. That kind of recognition for someone new in her career was meaningful – and reinforced that with tenacity, motivation, and resilience, I could build the career of my dreams."
6. Kelsey, 31 — Defy Therapy & Wellness
"I never truly felt successful in my former jobs because I didn’t feel challenged. I felt I could not provide the value, creativity, and care that I have always wanted to. I felt stuck, unable to showcase what I truly had to offer and see the impact it could make. Now, after taking the leap and opening my business (as hard and challenging as it is) I truly feel successful at work."
7. Marnie 33, Founder of The Social Status Co.
"Going through the process of forming my LLC and setting up a real office with my logo on the wall was the moment I thought, 'Well damn, we’ve got something here!'”
8. Diane, 31 — Skin Care Ox
"As a professional whose been an executive at multi-billion dollar companies, a participant in competitive startup incubators like Techstars, and an entrepreneur who started my own companies with venture-backed funding, you'd think I would have felt successful during many points in my career. However, I didn't begin to truly feel successful until I quit my all my work to start my skin care blog, Skin Care Ox. Taking the leap to build my own business from the ground up and become a solo entrepreneur was daunting, but incredibly satisfying. I truly felt successful for the first time when I became my own boss, and the business I created from scratch started generating income and thriving. Each time I'd hit one of the goals I set for myself was incredibly rewarding. It's been very fulfilling continuing to build up my blog and watch it grow and expand in response to my concentrated efforts."
9. Esperanza, 35 — St. John's Lutheran Church
"The first time I really felt successful at work was this past Monday during my one-month work evaluation. After giving a a thorough report on my accomplishments after four weeks into my new position, my supervisor responded with, 'I LOVE YOU! We have been waiting for you.' This made me feel incredible successful, especially after a two-year job search. I was a SAHM [stay-at-home mom] who was seeing my chances of landing a job diminish as the time gap between my last job on my resume widen. ... I finally feel successful because I am working at a job where they appreciate my experience, hard work and understand the need for work and life balance. Instead of shaming me for bringing my two-year-old to work a few weeks ago so I could finish up a presentation, my supervisor took my daughter's hand and led her to the M&M stash in her office. That is success to me."
10. Sarah, 35 — Director of Earned Media, BVK
"Honestly, the first time I felt successful at work was when I looked around a meeting room and realized I was the dumbest person in the room... It’s not that I don’t think I’m smart — I know I am! But when I was invited into a room to collaborate with the best of the best that was my definition of success."
11. Dannie, 24 — Dannie Fountain
"For me, it was the first time I was brave enough to take credit for something. So often, women demure and share credit with a team whereas men are bold and take credit for their work. Earlier this year, I worked on a special project and each person involved was required to submit a slide sharing the part of the project they owned and the results for it, then those slides were shared out with the larger organization. For the first time, I wasn't hiding behind a team, I was getting recognized for my contributions! That felt like success to me."
12. Regina, 24 — Co-Founder & COO, EllieGrid
"[The] first time I felt successful at work was either when I was first asked to judge a business plan competition or when I was asked to be a mentor at a women in business event."
13. Kristen, 33 — Vice President Of Corporate Communications, Hudson Group
"I worked in sports PR in my early career — totally intimidating, and often underestimated at 5 ft. 2 in. tall. While it took some time for me to gain confidence and respect, I slowly made it by pitching small stories here and there. One day I met a college friend of mine who was the same age, but male and he was working at a large sports PR firm. A few minutes into the conversation, I found out that a year into his career, he was pitching late-night TV! I felt that I had to do the same. I needed guts. So I cold-called and emailed a leading talent producer for [a late-night show]. And to my surprise, I heard, 'Yes, great idea!'. That segment ended up being the highlight of my career — but also gave me the confidence boost I needed to know that I could make it in Public Relations. And of course that I could trust my good ideas. Sky is the limit."
14. GG, 44 — GG Benitez PR
"The first time I felt successful as a publicist is when I took a locally based children’s entertainment group for performing at local malls, to performing at celebrities homes for birthday parties, landing the group in People magazine. As my job was about securing media attention for clients, and this was my first ever PR client, I felt a boost of confidence that I had chosen the right field of work, and had nailed down the strategies to differentiate myself amongst other publicists."
15. Maria, 54 — Attorney & Author Of '50 After 50: Reframing the Next Chapter of Your Life'
"The first time I felt successful at work was when I felt I truly helped a client. I am a lawyer and my first job was at a large Washington, D.C. law firm. The firm mainly served corporate clients, but it allowed us to do pro bono work as well. Helping real people with real problems was very gratifying. It made all the hard work in law school and long hours with the law firm feel worth it. When I reentered the workforce after taking 15 years off to raise my children, I was nervous that my legal skills were no longer sharp. I had to keep at bay my feelings of self-doubt. The first time I felt successful this time around was when I won my first case. My writing skills remained sharp and, while I do not enjoy being back in court yet, it felt good to see that my written advocacy was still effective."
16. Jessica, 32 — Comedy Producer & Talent Booker, CBS
"I felt successful at work when I started believing in myself, and forgiving myself for accepting that we all have a learning curve to get to where we want to be. The perfectionist in me will never feel successful enough because “never settle” is engrained in the back of my eyeballs. That said, learning to take breaks and as Dale Cooper in Twin Peaks says, 'Every day, once a day, give yourself a present. Don't plan it. Don't wait for it. Just let it happen.'”
There you have it — so many different ways women define personal success. There might not be one single thing that makes you a success at work, but you'll know it when you feel it.