How Do You Define Success?


What does it mean to be a success? Early in life, I would have said not getting into trouble. I would later add in having a job and paying the bills. At some point, I added in being a good parent and a good person. Now, I would say it is about being happy and adding something good into the world whenever I can.

When thinking of success, it is incredibly important to start with the question, “What does success mean to me?”

Too often, the answer to that question seems to be related to money, power, and status — likes on social media, popularity. While these things absolutely have value, I’m afraid they skew our personal ideas of success. When we take on external measures of success (like these), it can feel hollow.

Your answer to what it means to be successful is crucial because without the answer, there is no way to measure if you are getting there. This is a personal determination that should not be based on what others expect or want from you. It should be based on what you want and what contributes to your own happiness.

No one can know this for you. It is something you must discover on your own, and it begins with brutal honesty — even if what makes you happy is cheesy, nerdy, or hopelessly unhip. You will never find your happiness by pursuing someone else’s goals. Accepting this may be scary, and it may be that you don’t yet know what makes you happy. A lot of people have never stopped to consider it. Other people may be afraid to commit due to fear that what makes them happy now will not be what makes them happy later. I feel confident in suggesting that what makes you happy will change over time, and that is normal. You just flex along with it.

Notice that I keep intermingling success with happiness. That is because I believe that what you choose as your success goal should ultimately contribute to your happiness. What I am talking about is aligning your goals with your values. I see them was inextricably intertwined.

The fundamental question is: What does success mean to you in accordance with your own standards, goals, and values?

For some people, success is money. For others, it is status. Still others, success means happiness. The possibilities are endless, and the answer to this question may take some time and consideration.

My point is that before you embark on a journey to achieve success, you need to know what it is for you, and then, you need to know how you will measure it. What success is and how it is measured are not the same thing, but they are absolutely related. They are also crucial elements that will help you gauge your success in attaining success.

If you measure success by how much money you make because society defines success as financial wealth, but money doesn’t contribute to your feeling successful, then this won’t feel like true success for you. Also, be careful about defining success based on what you want but measuring success by factors that you cannot control. This is a lose/lose scenario.

I am driving home the point that your definition of success and measure of success may not be questions that are easily answerable. Take the necessary time for contemplation. As you decide on your definition and measure of success, remember that they are your measures. Own them, and feel comfortable with their size.

Jot down some words or ideas that might be related to how you define success. Sort out what are your own ideas and what might be the expectation of others. Sort out what might be related to a desire to fit in with what others are doing. Call out your own bullshit — where you are not being honest with yourself about reality or you are fantasizing about being some kind of glory hound. Flesh out some initial ideas of how you might go about measuring your efforts to achieve success.

In the end, success is something only you can define. If you go after what others tell you is success, you will feel disappointed. And, all those stories about success being CEO’s, millionaires, and mega-famous are wonderful, but most of us would just as soon be happy. One does not guarantee the other.

Cheers to your journey!



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Jodie Eckleberry-Hunt, Ph.D., A.B.P.P.

Jodie Eckleberry-Hunt, Ph.D., A.B.P.P.

Author of Move on Motherf*cker: Live, Laugh, and Let Sh*t Go. Using CBT, mindfulness, humor, and profanity to feel better.