What Is Your Personal Definition of Success?

What does it mean to be successful?

Most people today define success as having wealth or fortune in millions. They don’t recognize someone as successful if their name isn’t worth a lot of money.

It’s not recent. Oxford English Dictionary, back in 1971, observed that success has become increasingly associated with wealth and prestige.

In reality, it is unjust to equate success with money.

Success, when defined solely by one’s monetary worth, underplays the accomplishments of writers, poets, scientists, explorers, artists, and others who did not pursue riches.

Moreover, we can define success in a variety of non-monetary ways.

A good definition of success not tied to a lot of money is having the freedom to choose where you will live, eat, and work. In this post-pandemic world, you can practically live like a global nomad and work from anywhere.

Why create your own definition of success?

Success is mostly a moving target, any way you define it. A successful life is subjective, and one person’s definition of success often differs much from another’s, even though studies reveal some similarities.

Our society creates prototypes of what success looks like when, in reality, there is no standard definition. Success is relative to the person who succeeds. So, what matters more is what defines your success.

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To achieve your maximum potential and become your best self, write your own definition of success.

your definition of success
Success does not look like what society would have us believe.

Some Example Definitions of Success

People define success as:

  1. Achieving goals that benefit self as well as others.
  2. Completing one’s work with excellence and timeliness.
  3. The favorable outcome of the desired goal after a lot of sacrifices.
  4. A sense of having accomplished something at the end of each day.
  5. Enabling self and family in living a better, happier, and healthier life.
  6. A positive perception of a result, as a learning experience after a failure.
  7. A valuable experience gained as a result of grit and consistency at work.

Emerson’s Definition of Success

Ralph Waldo Emerson defined success as: “To laugh often and much; to win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children; … to appreciate beauty, to find the best in others; to leave the world a little better; whether by a healthy child or a garden patch … to know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is success.”

Wooden’s Definition of Success

John Wooden defined success as peace of mind attained only through self-satisfaction in knowing you made the effort to do the best of which you’re capable.

What Is The Definition of Success In Life?

Success in life means living, and having lived, a good life. It means living with gratitude and altruism while fulfilling one’s targeted goals. In general, women define success in terms of relationships and life-balance, while men define it in terms of material achievements (Dyke & Murphy, 2006).

Success in life is reaching the point when you have achieved most of your set goals.

You may have wanted financial freedom or a 4-hour-day workday, and you achieved those with style. Some might have wanted to explore the world, while others just wanted to immerse themselves in what they are passionate about.


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What defines success in life is goal completion within the time range you set at the start.

Some dreams and desires will remain unfulfilled till the last day of your life, of course. The idea is to complete the majority of your objectives in a time frame that lets you enjoy life.

Success can also mean prioritizing your self-care needs, accepting that you don't need everything you want, and letting some of your dreams go unfulfilled. Click To Tweet

It might mean learning that you sometimes have to say “No” or realize you cannot keep it all unless you give some away.

To some, success is a continual struggle and always staying on the move. To others, it is a sense of peace and an undisturbed pause.

Wholesome success consists of achieving success in five areas of well-being:

  • Occupational or professional success
  • Emotional or psychological success
  • Social or relationship success
  • Community success
  • Financial success

Above all, success in life means achieving personal fulfillment without harming anyone.

a definition of success

Society’s Definition of Success Men & Women

In 1993, Working Woman magazine asked readers what makes them feel successful, and they reported:

  1. happy family life or relationship (79%)
  2. having enough time for family and friends (65%)
  3. being in control over their lives (57%)
  4. being very good at their jobs (42%)
  5. being rich enough to buy whatever they want (26%)
  6. high-level position at job (11%)
  7. having power or influence (7%).

Moreover, although men and women report feeling equally successful in general, they tend to measure their success by different yardsticks.

In the survey, more men (32%) saw wealth as an indicator of success than women (21%). And more women saw having enough time for family and friends as a priority (70% of women v/s 58% of men).

The meaning of money is also gender-biased (Deutsch, Roksa, & Meeske, 2003). Men who sacrifice their financial security for caregiving are seen less favorably by society in comparison to men who avoid this trade-off. (Riggs, 1997).

Women who had made it to the top of the career hierarchy did not primarily define success in terms of career. Instead, a balance (in life) was critical. … In contrast, the men were more likely to compartmentalize concerns for career and personal achievement from concerns about relationships.

— Lorraine Dyke & Steven Murphy, 2006

[• By the way, do you know how to shop (using science) for maximum happiness?]

What Is Your Definition of Success?

Success has many definitions, but it is up to you to decide which one to use as your personal signature.

Success to me is doing something that brings me joy and that I care about. It also means opening up to challenges that help me to grow personally and professionally, as well as mindfully and transcendently. It is loving others as well as loving myself equally.

Success is not just a measure of our money, position, or influence over others, but also of how much control we have over our lives and our time. Click To Tweet

Let’s do a thought experiment: What would you do if you had no limits and could design your perfect day as you wanted?

Do you imagine yourself on a beachside hammock at nighttime, looking up at the millions of stars as a gentle breeze blows? Do you see yourself on the top floor of the Eiffel Tower, breathing in huge swigs of air as you stand there looking around in awe? Or would you be spending an entire day with your family, playing with your dogs and kids?

The reason you want to be successful is mostly a very personal quest. The meaning of success for your family and friends will differ from yours; accept that. As Rumi said:

“It’s your road, and yours alone. Others may walk it with you, but no one can walk it for you.”

Whatever makes you feel happy is what you should focus on first. Research shows happier people are more likely to take up new goals in life, which then leads them to success in many other areas of their lives, and makes them even happier.

• Read the shortest guide to The Three Good Things That Went Well and raise your happiness level.

The Personal Definition Of Success:

Success is achieving a balance in our priorities. It is more than just a measure of our money, position, or influence over others. It is living a joyful life, being helpful to others, pursuing meaningful goals, and dealing with the bittersweet moments with grit and resilience.

The Oxford Dictionary defines success as “the attainment of fame, wealth, or social status.” The Macmillan dictionary says this, “Being successful is like being high up.

But we feel the best personal definition of success is this:

Success is achieving a balance in our priorities.

Whatever your age, that one-sentence definition of personal success stays evergreen, defying the ravages of time. It leaves enough space for personal priorities along with your social and familial obligations. It also eliminates the need to find a new definition once you achieve your current goals and shuffle your preferences in life.

#Success is achieving a balance in our priorities. The intricacies of life and our choices at any given moment change over the years, but that definition of success remains true all through. Click To Tweet

Any definition of success must include how much control we have over our lives and our time.

Now, our priorities in life are always an eclectic mix. And so is the sweet spot of our balance between them. That definition factors in the delicate balance of priorities in each of our lives.

To one person, the ratio between colleagues and friends could find a sweet balance at 30:70. For another, meanwhile, it could balance out at 50:50. That definition of success respects the individuals we are, and the differences we bear.

The complexities of life and our choices at each moment keep changing throughout the years, but this definition keeps its integrity quite intact.

Still, stop for a moment and ask yourself: How do I define success? What does success mean to me?

Two Keys To Success In Business & Life

The widely held belief that success is limited to those with natural talents is a myth.

Every person is born with a unique set of talents that allows them a special ability to perform certain tasks effortlessly. However, it is not enough to be born with extraordinary abilities to be successful. An off-the-charts high IQ in a child does not predict a future of brilliant success.

Our innate abilities may help us get a head start in the game. But those abilities do not remain constant. They change as we age. So, they cannot bring us success on their own.

Success, instead, demands two key qualities:

  1. Steady Focus
  2. Constant Curiosity

Carol S. Dweck says a similar thing in different words in her Mindset: The New Psychology of Success:

  1. Focus on Learning (Instead of focusing on Achievement)
  2. Adopt a Growth Mindset (Instead of adopting a Fixed Mindset)
stay hungry stay foolish
Last ‘Whole Earth Catalog’ Back Cover – June 1971

The picture above is from the back cover of the final issue of the Whole Earth Catalog. It was a highly innovative magazine of its time, brought out by Stewart Brand.

Steve Jobs described the publication as “Google in paperback form, 35 years before Google came along.”

That 1971 cover picture shows a deserted early morning old country road with just four words:

Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish.

Years later, in 2005, Steve Jobs, the late Apple co-founder, used it in his inspirational Commencement Speech at Stanford. And made those four words immortal.

Those four words were what became the definition of success in business and life for Steve Jobs. And those words are what he suggested we all make our own.

Steve Jobs' 2005 Stanford Commencement Address (with intro by President John Hennessy)
Steve Jobs’ Commencement Speech, 2005
Success demands two key qualities: 1. Steady focus 2. Constant curiosity. Steve Jobs said it better: 1. Stay hungry. 2. Stay foolish. Click To Tweet

The Harsh Reality of Success In Life

You are almost certainly never going to achieve the level of success that your heroes and the stars have. This is the harsh reality: the odds are heavily stacked against you.

The world does not allow everyone to become equally successful. If that happens, the word “success” would lose its meaning.

Still, you can be successful in your own way, and that is what you should aim for.

Vincent van Gogh sold only two paintings during his lifetime for around $100. At the age of 37, he died believing himself a failure. In 1990, his “Portrait of Dr. Gachet” sold for $82 million.

Success is never an overnight phenomenon. So, do not expect to wake up one fine morning ridiculously successful. The entire game is about taking consistent steps, testing a lot of strategies, and seeing many failures before reaching the right results.

The first reality about success is that you will almost never be as successful as those you look up to. The second reality is that once you understand how it gets done, you must put in the effort and stay committed to your goals.

That’s how you find success.

Most Popular Success Quotes

Maya Angelou, an American poet, editor, essayist, playwright, actress, singer, Hollywood’s first female black director, and civil rights activist, said:

“Success is liking yourself, liking what you do, and liking how you do it.”

And The Minimalists duo Joshua Fields Millburn & Ryan Nicodemus say,

“If we’re not happy, then we’re not successful.”

Raj Sisodia, the co-author of Conscious Capitalism, says,

“I define success as living my true purpose and having a positive impact on the lives of people.”

Bill Gates says,

“Success is a lousy teacher. It seduces smart people into thinking they can’t lose.”

A slightly funny one from Doug Larson is,

“A true friend is one who overlooks your failures and tolerates your success.”

Another Doug Larson quote that defines the success process is,

“Some of the world’s greatest feats were accomplished by people not smart enough to know they were impossible.”

Pele, the king of soccer, says,

“Success is no accident. It is hard work, perseverance, learning, studying, sacrifice and most of all, love of what you are doing or learning to do.”

While we go hunting for our successes, we may keep in perspective the wise words of Frank Lloyd Wright:

“We do not learn so much by our successes as we learn by failures—our own and others.”

One of the most parodied definitions of success takes a cue from a Thomas Edison quote,

“Success is 1% inspiration, 99% perspiration.”

What Edison originally said was, “Genius: one percent inspiration and 99 percent perspiration.”

Final Words

All of us want to have at least a moderate level of success in life. Success gives us confidence, stability, a sense of well-being, and the opportunity to give more to others.

The road to success is a long one, and a great personal definition of success is a nice place to start.

After you have framed a personal definition of success, and before you set out on that journey, check out the 7 Tips On How To Be Successful In Life.

Success and failure are both essential experiences in our existence. We realize the importance of both when we look back on our lives. Let us close this with what Steve Jobs said:

You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backward. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something — your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever.

– Steve Jobs
You can't connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backward. – Steve Jobs Click To Tweet

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How To Find The Meaning of Your Life?

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Author Bio: Written and reviewed by Sandip Roy—a medical doctor, psychology writer, and happiness researcher. Founder and Chief Editor of The Happiness Blog. Writes popular science articles on happiness, positive psychology, mindfulness, and related topics.


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