"What do you have -- a job, a career, or a calling?" This was the question my colleagues and I were asked when Wharton professor Richard Shell stopped by Welltower (where I work) to talk about the keys to finding personal success. 

In his book Springboard, Shell doesn't claim to provide the answer to creating a successful career. In his words, that would be an attempt to provide the "outer definition of success" -- aspects that focus on building a long career, receiving recognition, and achievement. Those are all great, but the issue with the "outer" is that they're not universal nor a sustainable source of happiness. If you base your definition of success on external factors like money and influence, for example, then you'll never have enough. 

Instead, Shell chose to write a guide that helps readers think about and determine their own "inner" definition of prosperity -- aspects like fulfillment, respect, and happiness. If you can focus on addressing these personal needs first, then the "outer" forms of success will follow. Unfortunately, many people flip the equation and achieve great success without ever attaining true happiness. 

Although everyone's idea of a rewarding career is unique and comprises numerous components, finding meaningful work is a part of every equation.

Shell describes meaningful work as finding the intersection of three very important factors:

1. The work that others will reward you for doing

This could include promotions and a sense of status, increased compensation to live a carefree lifestyle, or the ability to hone your skills and build upon your experiences through additional opportunities. 

2. The work that ignites you emotionally

This is the work that you are passionate about regardless of whether you're paid for doing it. Examples could include your hobbies, community service, or other extracurriculars that provoke strong, heartfelt satisfaction. 

3. The work that uses your talents and strengths

All of us have unique strengths and abilities. It is important to find opportunities that allow us to exercise and leverage our talents in service of greater goals. This is an important distinction. Shell cautioned his readers not to let their strengths be the sole determinant of their careers. If so, it's easy to unintentionally pigeonhole ourselves in jobs that we're not passionate about only because we're good at them. 

How to define your own success

Upon further research on the topic, Shell found seven foundational components of meaningful work that, when used in combination, help people build a conception of work that's more significant. Here are Shell's seven perfect categories to consider when developing your very own definition of success. Which of these is most important to you? 

  1. Personal growth and development -- Work that challenges you to step outside your comfort zone and learn new skills necessary for progress. 
  2. Entrepreneurial independence -- Opportunities to work autonomously and control your own future. 
  3. Religious or spiritual identity -- The ability to practice your beliefs, faith, or values consistently in service of the greater good. 
  4. Family -- Work that helps you support your family and provides them with the means for a better future. Also, finding work that honors those who made sacrifices so that you could pursue your passions.  
  5. Expressing yourself through ideas, invention, or the arts -- Opportunities to create and build something new while exercising your freedom of expression.   
  6. Community -- Work that allows you to help others in need and serve a cause that's bigger than yourself. 
  7. Talent-based striving for excellence -- The ability to aspire to the highest level of distinction in a particular area of study. (To become a subject-matter expert.) 

There are many self-development books out there that focus on the "outer" definitions of a successful and rewarding career. Although they are important, focusing on those achievements alone will not provide us with the lasting sense of fulfillment we're all looking for. (That's why I have a hundred different self-help books.) Rather, if we can start with ourselves and define our own version of success, then the outward facing accomplishments will follow.