How Do You Measure Success?

By Paula Fitzsimmons

Working 70 hours a week at a job that may pay well but sucks the life out of you. Securing the bottom line at any cost. Clawing your way to the top of the corporate ladder. Doing whatever it takes to achieve a certain level of “success” isn’t working out too well for us – and especially not for animals or the planet.

Noted scholar and environmental educator, David W. Orr summed it up perfectly when he wrote: “The planet does not need more successful people. It needs people of moral courage willing to join the fight to make the world habitable and humane. And these qualities have little to do with success as we have defined it.”

Right on.

Don’t get me wrong. Earning a well-deserved promotion and enjoying the monetary benefits of one’s labor can be a sweet thing. It’s when we believe and act as if externals such as prestige, title, and wealth should define us; then use them as justification to exploit animals, the environment, and others. . . that it’s time to take a good long look at our reason for being.

If we’ve been approaching success incorrectly, then what is true success, exactly?

My ideals and definition of success will no doubt differ from yours. The following are not right or wrong, but what I believe are hallmarks of true success . . .


Fulfilling your potential

If you already know you want to work with or for animals, you’ve solved a big part of the equation. The other part is figuring out which specific career or job you would enjoy and excel at.

As Holly McNulty, Farm Sanctuary’s Director of Human Resources & Volunteer Programs told me . . .


It is always great to see passion for our mission and enthusiasm to help out in any way that is needed, however I find that our most successful employees and volunteers are those who have chosen an area of focus that is matched to their skills, strengths, and what they enjoy doing on a day-to-day basis. There is a place for everyone to make a difference – so choosing an opportunity that fits you best will be most likely to be successful for the long term.”


If you haven’t figured out what you’re good at, don’t feel so bad. Some people instinctively know what their strengths are – you’ve probably heard of people who knew they wanted to be a doctor, lawyer, or writer since childhood. For the rest of us, discovering what it is we’re good at can be a bit more challenging.

Fortunately there are resources to help you decide on an ideal career path. One of the most helpful things to help you learn what you enjoy, is to volunteer at an assortment of animal welfare organizations.


Making a difference

Working at a job that makes a difference in the lives of animals and others, is perhaps one of life’s biggest affirmations. Ask someone who works in the field (provided they haven’t yet experienced burnout) how their job makes them feel about themselves. Even closer to home, how do you feel about yourself when you’ve made a difference in someone’s life, even if it wasn’t job related?

Whether you work directly with animals as a caregiver, vet tech, or animal adoption specialist; or indirectly as a fundraiser, writer, or administrator, you’re making a difference. And if you’re making a difference, you’re a true success.


Feeling good about what you do

How will you feel about yourself if the wealth you build or money you earn is gained on the backs of others? Feeling good about the work you do and being able to look at yourself in the eye are signs of true success.



  • Working with integrity; either individually or collaboratively to achieve a greater good
  • Building profits ethically, without compromising your values
  • Working 60 hours a week to build a wildlife sanctuary; helping to craft animal-friendly legislation; or writing a grant proposal
  • Taking a stand for the defenseless


Examples of true success versus standard “success”
Which would you rather strive for?



  • Clawing your way to the top by whichever means necessary
  • Creating record profits with disregard for animals, the planet, and others
  • Working 60 hours a week for status
  • Being part of the status quo


Now weigh in.  What does your vision of success look like?


  1. I am in that corporate rate race and HATE it. I made the decision to work for animals since my volunteer time in rescue is the only thing I get enjoyment out of and I know it makes a difference as oppose to putting more $ in some suite’s pocket. However, I am struggling to make the leap — not because I haven’t tried but more because potential employers are looking at what I do now and are not calling for interviews. In fact, I just competed for a job that was doing the exact same work just in the corporate world. I didn’t even get an interview even though I went above and beyond just submitting a resume. I even submitted examples of work because I knew I had one shot. I continue to try and post out but would love any advice you or others can share — and heck if you want someone to do some work, let me know.

    • Animal Jobs Digest |

      Thank you for your comment, Tom. First, thank you for making a difference with your rescue work. : )

      I know how frustrating it is to be in a soul-sucking job. Keep applying & reaching out to potential employers; because with any other type of job (or in the case of freelance writing), it’s a numbers game – the more applications, resumes, CVs, and queries you send out, the better the chance one of these will become your dream job or assignment.

      Making contacts via volunteer work (which you do), events (both online and in person) are also crucial. Have you checked out ASPCAPro and Animal Sheltering? They are both excellent resources for people who want to make animal rescue their life’s work.

      And lastly, please keep an eye on the AJD Jobs Page – some great organizations have been posting positions. If you’re by chance looking for remote/telecommute work, Best Friends does notably, offer these types of positions.

      I hope this helped. Thanks for reading. : )


    • Animal Jobs Digest |

      And in case you haven’t seen this post, it’s a list of reliable job boards for people looking for animal-related work:

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