Defining Success on Your Own Terms with Dawon Hawkins

July 24, 2023

No matter where you are in your job search or career, it can be difficult to fend off the feeling of being stuck or unfulfilled. In a society where we are constantly comparing ourselves to others, this despair is only amplified. To feel stuck––even for a moment––is to fall behind (or so we tell ourselves). Defining success on your own terms can be a valuable tool in combating these feelings of despair, though doing so in practice is easier said than done. 

To learn more, ColorStack sat down to chat with Dawon Hawkins, Director of Global Inclusion, Belonging, and Talent Programs at DocuSign. With 25 years of experience in HR––most recently in the DEI space––Dawon has designed countless trainings and workshops aimed at building more inclusive work environments. He brings a wealth of professional and personal experience to the table when it comes to helping people find what drives them. 

If you find yourself feeling stuck, keep reading. We’ve compiled some of Dawon’s expert tips for defining your own success below: 

1. Passions define success but so does workplace culture

“I think this notion of finding what it is you’re passionate about and really pursuing that with fervor is mission critical. That defines success,” says Dawon. 

However, Dawon also emphasizes that identifying environments that allow you to fully express your identity can be equally important, especially when you’re still in the process of figuring out your passions. He encourages readers to seek out spaces “that allow you the ability to learn and fail in a safe environment, to present yourself and your ideas authentically, and give you… the freedom and the agency to contribute to your potential.” 

For those who are still figuring out what a supportive professional space looks like, Dawon recommends pausing to reflect upon moments in your personal life when you felt like the best version of yourself. What were the environmental factors that made you feel that way? Once you’ve isolated these data points, you can set goals around the type of workplace you feel would be most supportive. 

“For me, success is being clear about what I'm interested in and finding a space that allows me to do that in the way that is most effective for me.”

2. Recognize that personal success isn’t always linear

While some people know what they want to do their entire lives, most people’s passions change over time. This is true of Dawon’s career journey, which includes an education in fashion design, a pivot into business and training programs, a subsequent career in HR, and a pandemic-era layoff––all before he landed in the DEI space at DocuSign. “I had to come to terms with recognizing that there are going to be points in my life where the things that I'm passionate about… are really influenced by my evolution.” Just as you change in light of your experiences, so do your passions. 

However, this progression isn’t always a smooth one. And even when people are able to identify their passions, they might not be able to lean into them for socio-economic reasons. 

When faced with difficult work situations, Dawon provides an important reminder that “we are exactly where we need to be in the moment that we’re in.” The implication of this simple statement is profound. It suggests that arduous job experiences aren’t setbacks. Rather, “those life experiences are the building blocks for the person that you're going to become,” says Dawon. He describes this realization as the first step in getting past the despair of a less than ideal job. “It takes some of the guilt, the shame, the embarrassment, and the frustration away.” 

Step two is leaning into your decision-making power and taking proactive steps to move in a direction that better suits your goals. Practically speaking, this can mean a variety of things. Dawon specifically calls out the importance of reaching out to people you look up to as role models and mentors. This support network can help you identify your next steps. 

3. Speak and write your goals into existence

While establishing personal goals is one thing, holding yourself accountable to them is another. To help make your personal goals real, Dawon recommends committing them to paper and speaking them into existence. 

“By writing something down just like saying it out loud, it becomes visceral and real, and there's a sense of personal accountability,” he says. “Knowing that you've… captured something viscerally about the vision that you have for yourself… that makes it. We become attached to what we write down and it becomes a personal commitment.”

As a next step, Dawon suggests sharing these goals with others. While it can be helpful to share with friends and family, he indicates that it is especially valuable to seek out professional mentors who will hold you accountable with a degree of objectivity. Neworks like ColorStack can be extremely helpful in establishing these types of mentor-mentee relationships. 

When you share personal goals and visions for success with others, you also lean into the implicit truth that you are not alone no matter how stuck you feel. You have people on your side.