Bold Hunger, Quiet Struggle: The Power of Reflecting on Career Mindsets

Apr 15, 2021

Reflection is a powerful tool. Take Challenge Factory’s Assess Your Career Mindset survey today to reflect on your work and career.

The COVID-19 pandemic has tested us all. Our work, workplaces, and workforces have undergone both rapid and longer, drawn-out change. We’ve reacted, revised, and reflected as crisis and recovery permitted. None of us are in the same position we were this time last year.

As we approach the end of the COVID tunnel, paved as it is with the vaccine rollout, forecasts about the next wave of impact that the pandemic will have on careers are also starting to roll out:

  • A ‘turnover tsunami’ is expected to hit North America.
  • Nearly a quarter of Canadians say the pandemic has led them to consider a job or career change.
  • A record number of Ontario nurses may leave the profession.
  • If given the opportunity, more than half of Canadians would reskill into a new career.
  • Only 40 percent of workers eager to improve their digital skills have successfully done so amid the pandemic.

These reports are timely and informative, and Challenge Factory is busy bringing our unique perspective to this forecasting. When there are a significant number of headlines predicting significant turnover, as well as labour and skills shortages, leaders know it’s time to get ready for change. A deeper understanding of how Canadians think about their careers can provide the unique insight needed to design the right retention and support programs.

Let’s explore how integrating quantitative and qualitative data and asking better questions can contribute to this deeper understanding of career needs and mindsets.


Challenge Factory’s “Assess Your Career Mindset” survey findings

In 2016, Challenge Factory launched a survey that allowed Canadians to take a few minutes to reflect on their career. It asked them to consider where they are in their career at that moment in time, whether they want to make a change, how ready they might be to do so, how they might go about making a change, and what might be holding them back. It also prompted them to consider more broadly the meaning they associate with “careers” and “success.”

Between January 2016 and January 2018, 400 Canadians completed the survey. Here are some key highlights:

  • 45% of respondents feel completely ready to take their next career step; 33% feel ready but don’t know when to start or how to get started
  • 90% are comfortable or very comfortable exploring opportunities outside their current career path/sector
  • Only 8% believe they have a support network they can rely on when making their next career change
  • 23% don’t separate their career from their ‘personal lives’; 72% identify their career as having a positive or central role in their life, without letting it define them; 5% identify their job as simply a means to a paycheque
  • Only 11% have full confidence they know the criteria their next role must meet for it to be a good move
  • 39% have made no plans for how they will continue making meaningful lifelong career contributions (paid/unpaid activities—learning, volunteerism, leisure) in their 60s, 70s, and beyond.
  • 62% have career marketing documents (resume, LinkedIn profile, bio, etc.) that focus on what they have done in the past. Only 6% have documents that are written for where they want to go next.
  • When asked what steps they have already taken to explore new careers or change roles, only 21% of respondents report having attended a career-related event or training course.


An image of a woman leaning her elbow on a stand-up desk. “Successful, but not satisfied”

One of Challenge Factory’s core principles is the power of asking better questions. Asking better questions allows us to more productively decode the world of work and understand the humans thriving and struggling in it. It equips us to consistently capture what’s happening now, as well as to consistently forecast what’s likely to come next, how we know what we should be paying attention to (and what we shouldn’t), and what’s needed to effectively support our clients.

Using one of the survey’s short answer questions as a case study, let’s explore how digging deeper into qualitative data allows us to ask critical questions that open up pathways for 1) rich insights about individuals and Canadian society, 2) further research needs and possibilities, and 3) strategic planning for individual or cultural transformation.


arrow circle right icon As you read, you’ll see that alongside the survey findings, we offer suggestions for the types of versatile, future-focused questions that have the capacity to push our insights about career mindsets and needs to the next level.


When survey respondents were asked to describe what the phrase “successful, but not satisfied” means to them, clear trends emerged. To begin, Canadians commonly define success as:

  • financial stability
  • strong job performance
  • professional competence
  • advancement
  • recognition

Canadians also commonly define dissatisfaction (in the context of their daily work or long-term career) as:

  • boredom
  • frustration
  • unhappiness
  • disengagement
  • being stuck
  • lack of fulfillment
  • lack of meaning
  • lack of interest
  • lack of contribution
  • looking for more / to the future

In answering the question this way, the majority of Canadians show an implicit belief that someone can achieve success even if they don’t also experience job or career satisfaction. In other words, they do believe that someone can be successful but not satisfied. The majority (82%) also define success and/or (dis)satisfaction without explicitly identifying (in their response) how these two conditions might be linked.


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Reaching for the next level: What are the strengths and weaknesses of this belief? The potential risks? Possible alternatives?


In contrast, consider this minority response that clearly aligns success and satisfaction:

Question: What does the phrase “successful, but not satisfied” mean to you?


Response: It means there’s a disconnect or gap between what I’m using to measure my “success” and my “happiness/ satisfaction.”


Instead of defining success and satisfaction, this survey respondent identifies what they believe the relation between the terms/concepts to be (i.e., a disconnect or gap) in the context of the phrase.


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Reaching for the next level: Is it a problem, challenge, or opportunity that most people don’t explicitly identify that link between success and satisfaction? What impact might this have on someone’s job search or career choices? How can managers help make this link stronger?


Consider also this response:

Question: What does the phrase “successful, but not satisfied” mean to you?


Response: Not much. I don’t think I am successful if I am dissatisfied.


Unlike most respondents, this individual explicitly identifies their belief that success is causally linked to satisfaction. To them, there is no true success without satisfaction. Satisfaction produces success.


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Reaching for the next level: If this causal link were made (whether explicitly or implicitly) by much of the population, what would this mean for Canadian society? For decisions that Canadians make about their careers? For the leaders, managers, HR professionals, or career development professionals providing support and guidance to them?


Now consider this response:

Question: What does the phrase “successful, but not satisfied” mean to you?


Response: Frankly, I’m not interested in being “satisfied” by my job. I’m interested in being successful. […] I am wondering if there is a career coach out there who might be able to look at my experience and tell me what my options are. I figure I have 15-20 years left in the workforce and I want to maximize my earnings. That’s the most important thing. I don’t care what I do – I just want to maximize my earnings while I can.


To this individual, success is delinked from satisfaction. Satisfaction might even be viewed as a risk to success, although this cannot be confirmed with the data collected. In our coaching programs, we often hear clients express concern that what will make them happy won’t provide the financial stability they need to be successful. This belief is often unfounded as we learn that clients are both unaware of possible career paths and uninformed about their own financial position and needs for security.


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Reaching for the next level: Does this belief disrupt things? How is it related to work culture? How might it impact Canada’s world of work and ‘career culture’? Could it benefit/harm others? What role should organizations play in advancing both the financial and career literacy of their employees?


For all the variation we’ve been laying out, perhaps the most poignant trend that emerged from the survey data is the underlying yearning of our respondents—in their daily work, in their careers, in their lives. For some, this yearning manifests as a bold hunger. For others, it manifests as a quiet struggle. Some are carried forward on a wave of energy, while others are worn out and tired. This finding would not have emerged without the qualitative data collection and a human-centric approach to the data analysis.


The meaning of “success”An image of a woman looking outside the window as she types on her laptop.

Just as the power of asking better questions shouldn’t be ignored, the power of qualitative data shouldn’t be either. The Assess Your Career Mindset survey doesn’t only give us an important snapshot of Canadians’ career mindsets—although it does very usefully do that. And the qualitative data gathered in the survey doesn’t only reveal the variation in understandings of success among our respondents. It also reveals the variation in how respondents chose to answer the question (e.g., what they stated explicitly and what they might have left implicit).

The survey also asks the question, “What questions or thoughts has this survey raised?” The answers are revealing. Canadians are hungry for opportunity to reflect in a guided way about their work and careers. Many of their fears and dreams for the future are bound up in their perception of near-term career possibilities and they welcome the opportunity to be asked bigger questions, with longer time horizons. Especially now, during the pandemic, when news cycles have us focused hour to hour or week to week, the ability to help Canadians make sense of current conditions in the context of what will come next is a critical component to Canada’s recovery.

At Challenge Factory, we work with a variety of different types of clients: government departments, academic leadership teams, corporate leadership teams, non-profit and independent public sector organizations, Veterans, older workers, and more. It would be a disservice to them to assume they all have a uniform understanding of success (in the context of career or workforce development). It would also be a disservice to ourselves to assume that our research, consulting, and training/coaching groups within Challenge Factory are all working towards the same type of success.

What is uniform, a starting point from which we can all take off, is that success in the world of work refers to a desired human outcome. Beyond that? The possibilities—and our pursuit of them—are many.

  • Reflection is power.
  • Asking better questions is power.
  • Qualitative data is power.


The data story isn’t over

Challenge Factory has launched the Assess Your Career Mindset survey again (with modifications for the COVID world we’re now living in), giving Canadians a new opportunity to reflect on their careers at this moment in time. The longitudinal data produced will allow us to compare the findings and insights to those from the original survey. Have career mindsets and needs shifted over the past five years? What new trends have emerged? What can integrated quantitative and qualitative data tell us about how the pandemic is affecting plans for and approaches to career transition?

We invite you, as an individual with your own career mindset and needs, to complete the survey. Take a few minutes out of the day for yourself and self-reflection. We also invite you to share this survey with your friends, family, co-workers, or networks. The more people who complete it, the better our data and insights will be. And we absolutely look forward to sharing the findings with you.

Click here to take the survey.


Share the Assess Your Career Mindset survey link:


Assess Your Career Mindset Here



With contributions from Lisa Taylor and Taryn Blanchard.

An image of Lisa Taylor, President of Challenge Factory and author and speaker.

Lisa Taylor, President, Challenge Factory
Author, Speaker


An image of Taryn Blanchard, Research Coordinator from Challenge Factory.

Taryn Blanchard, Research Coordinator, Challenge Factory