The Difference between Personal and Professional Success

professional success

The person who gets the farthest is generally the one who is willing to do and dare. The sure-thing boat never gets far from shore. ~  Dale Carnegie (Tweet this)

Early last year, I found myself sat on the balcony of an apartment in Malaysia. The view in front of me was amazing. There was a crystal clear ocean; palm tree’s dotted all over, a cold beer in my hand and my favorite music in the background. I took a sip of my beer, soaked it all in and realized something powerful – I had made it professionally! 

Six months earlier, I had set myself the target of running a location free business. I wanted to write and travel the world. Malaysia was the first stop for all of that. Which brings me full circle to this article. And how it can help you decide what you want both professionally and personally. Because that might sound like personal success to you; but it’s truly a professional success goal that I set.

Let me explain…

The difference between personal and professional success

The two are not mutually exclusive – which I’ll come to a little later on – but on a base level it breaks down like this…

  • Personal Success: This is what you aspire to achieve for yourself: emotionally, physically and in your personal relationships. Such as having a loving partner, or hitting a personal best in the gym.
  • Professional Success: This is what you’re aiming for in your professional life, or your place of work. Like getting a promotion or landing a new job.

Think of them this way – what you want to achieve at home and what you want to achieve at work.

Now your professional goals are always personal to you; which is where it can sometimes get confusing, and the waters get murky.

But your goals can only ever be personal to you. Because, well, they’re your goals.

Where personal and professional success meet

Now I just said that the two are not mutually exclusive. And, they’re not. They have a direct impact on each other. The crossover is what professional success allows you to do in your personal life.

Let me use my Malaysia example as a reference point:

Personally, I always wanted to go to that part of the world. It was somewhere I’d never been, and it was high on my bucket list of places.

Professionally, I never could. Getting time off work – or having the money to do that sort of trip – wasn’t feasible at all.

So when my professional situation allowed me to go there, I was able to hit my personal goal of being there too.

You probably have things in your life right now where this crossover will occur:

  • Personally you want a new car; Professionally you want to earn another $1000 a month
  • Personally you want more time with the kids; Professional you want to work a four day week
  • Personally you want to live in Manhattan; Professionally you start aiming for agencies in Manhattan

You might be dying to get that promotion at work – but it’s rarely for the money or the power – it’s mostly for what it allows you to do in your own life.

I define myself by my own business. I built it from the ground up. But I built it for the lifestyle it allows me to lead.

Which one comes first – personal success or professional success


There are two things that come before you look towards personal or professional success:

  • What do you want?
  • Is it going to make you happy?

That dictates which goal you’re going to put the most emphasis on, for where you are in your life right now.

Don’t bite off more than you can chew…

So, you’ve seen there is an overlap between Personal and Professional success – and they’re quite often connected from the start.

But which one should get your focus? Well, that comes down to a few factors:

  • Where are you in your life? Are you in a position where you need to focus more on personal, or professional goals? It’s hard to lose 20 lbs and fight for a promotion at the same time.
  • What do you want to do? What is it that’s on your mind most of the time? Getting recognition, or finding a partner?

This isn’t to say that you shouldn’t multi-task and try to take on a couple of goals at a time. If you can manage that, that’s fine. But if there is a big goal like, for example, going back to school and changing your career, or losing 50 lbs worth of weight, it’s going to be hard to manage them both.

So be careful which one you prioritize, and don’t take on too much at once.

It’s all about You

Like I said earlier, it’s all about what you what. And, well, what’s going to make you happy.

  • Professional success can be defined by everything you do at work that makes you happy.
  • Personal success can be defined by everything you do outside of the workplace that makes you happy.

And, both hinge on whether they’ll make you happy.


About the Author

James is addicted to being a true English Gentleman. Between moments of chivalry he runs his own Freelance Blogging company. You can hire him here

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