What does success mean to you? Sooner or later in life, we are all confronted with the essential question how we define success. No matter if this happens during a job interview or while making plans for the future, finding an answer is not always easy. The word “success” can have quite a lot of different meanings to different people. If you’d randomly ask one hundred people what success is all about, you’d get a vast variety of different answers. When it comes to success, reaching common consensus about a definition is extraordinarily difficult. Some might even say that it’s quite impossible. This article is intended to help you get a good overview about the meaning of success. Its aim is to inspire you to develop your own definition of success for your own life. So let’s explore the different meanings of success in the following.
Many people struggle greatly when it comes to defining success. This is mostly because success is a rather subjective term. It simply means many different things to many different people. Another factor that contributes to this problem is the way mainstream culture portrays success. According to the mainstream view, a person is successful when they earn a lot of money, have a big house and a fancy car. As a result, many people have not only adopted but also integrated this superficial portrayal of success into their life. Consequently, their aims, ambitions and dreams are heavily centered around money, power, status and (sometimes also) fame.
“Money never made a man happy yet, nor will it. The more a man has, the more he wants. Instead of filling a vacuum, it makes one.“
Primarily defining success based on the amount of money you earn can be quite dangerous. Even more so, if you believe success is all about having money, you may be setting yourself up for an unpleasant surprise.
For this very reason, developing your very own definition of success is quite important. Otherwise, you risk wasting precious time and energy on the pursuit of superfluous things that do not fulfill you. Also, by chasing another person’s version of success you might end up having no true sense of a purpose in life.
“Success is not the key to happiness. Happiness is the key to success. If you love what you are doing, you will be successful.”
What does success mean to you?
Not knowing precisely what success means to you will make the pursuit of success a lot more difficult. If, however, you have a clear understanding how you define success in your life, the process of attaining success becomes a lot more focused. It’s a little bit like traveling. If you don’t know where you want to go, you might end up going around in circles. But if you have a clear destination where you want to be, you will march on day after day, until you have finally reached your destination.
Table of contents
Let’s start this exploration of success by giving a short definition of success.
The noun success refers to:
- the achievement of an aim, goal, ambition or purpose
- the attainment of wealth, social status, fame, influence or power
- the state of being victorious
- a person that accomplishes desired aims
Adapted by the definitions in Webster’s dictionary
As you can see, these definitions are primarily centered around the attainment of aims or purposes. It is also interesting to see that the attainment of wealth, status and fame are specifically included in an official definition of success.
While these definitions certainly give a good understanding about success, they might be totally insufficient when it comes to your own pursuit of success and happiness. For this reason, it’s beneficial to explore the different potential areas of success and how they contribute to your overall well-being, happiness and fulfillment.
As we have already addressed, the vast majority of people define success primarily based on the acquisition of wealth, tangibles, status and fame. But there are many more areas that can contribute to your overall perception of success. Success does not at all have to be limited to these four areas. Quite the contrary, by limiting one’s understanding of success to these areas, other important areas in life will be neglected:
There are several reasons why focusing too much on wealth, status and fame might be contradictory. First, what’s the point of being wealthy if you cannot draw happiness, fulfillment and joy from it? Second, there’s no point in obsessively trying to pursue a high social status if it requires you to become manipulative and aggressive. Third, what’s the point of attaining fame, if it does not contribute to finding purpose in your life?
What other (more meaningful) areas of success do exist?
- Success is doing what you love
- Success is forging your own path
- Success is enjoying each moment
- Success is not giving up
- Success is excelling in various areas of life
- Success is attaining mastery
- Success is making the world a better place
- Success is overcoming obstacles
- Success is living with love, happiness and compassion
- Success is doing what fulfills you
- Success is following your purpose
- Success is always giving your best
- Success is pursuing worthwhile ambitions
- Success is standing your ground
- Success is standing up for others
- Success is overcoming ignorance
- Success is being happy with what you have
- Success is staying true to yourself
- Success is helping others succeed
- Success is enjoying the little things in life
- Success is pursuing your dreams
- Success is facing and overcoming fear
- Success is learning something new every day
- Success is getting back up after defeat
- Success is attaining wisdom
- Success is being grateful for what you have
The above-mentioned areas enrich the money/status/fame-based understanding of success by a variety of other worthwhile concepts. By integrating these concepts into your overall understanding of success, you can add further fulfillment, meaning, purpose and happiness to your life. Let’s continue by having a look how (extraordinarily) successful people define success.
For Arianna Huffington, founder of the Huffington Post, measuring success based on money and power simply isn’t enough. She therefore encourages readers of her book “Thrive” to reconsider the traditional thinking of success. Instead of evaluating success based on two metrics (money and power) she advocates to include a third metric consisting of “well-being, wisdom, wonder, and giving.” According to her, by means of including a third metric into the understanding of success, one can combine the pursuit of success with psychological well-being.
To Lucy Danziger, former editor-in-chief of SELF magazine, the process of being successful in life consists of two essential steps. First, you need to discover and understand what it is that makes you truly happy. Second, you need to pursue that which makes you happy.
She also highlights that you should not allow preconceived notions to influence your definition of success. Instead of allowing these notions to influence the career path you choose, listen to what you really want to do.
Federica Marchionni, president of Dolce & Gabbana Inc., says that success can come from a variety of different channels. It doesn’t necessarily have to come exclusively from the work you do. Instead, she points out that when it comes to success, balance is what you should strive for. She also highlights that success is not something that can be attained overnight. She therefore considers the pursuit of success a journey that leads to wisdom and ultimately to success.
College basketball coaching legend John Wooden primarily associates success with a specific mental state. To him, success is all about attaining peace of mind. Specifically, he attributes this to the self-satisfaction you get, when doing your very best.
“Success is peace of mind, which is a direct result of self-satisfaction in knowing you did your best to become the best you are capable of becoming.”
Winston Churchill, former prime minister of the UK, adds another important dimension to the concept of success. While most center the definition of success mostly around the accomplishment of aims, Churchill’s definition includes the importance of never giving up. To him, success is all about getting back up on your feet after being defeated. Even further, to Churchill neither success nor failure is final. Therefore, to him all that matters is the courage to continue.
“Success is going from failure to failure without losing enthusiasm.”
Adam Grant, professor at the University of Pennsylvania, introduces another dimension to success that was previously neglected: helping other people. Specifically, Grant defines success by his ability to help other people succeed.
Pulitzer Prize winner and US editor Herbert Swope said, when asked about success, that he couldn’t give a definite formula for success. But instead of defining success, he gave a sure-fire way to fail, which is the attempt of trying to please everybody.
The great poet and civil rights activist Maya Angelou primarily defined success based on harmony. To her, success is the combination of being happy with who you are, what you do and how you do it.
“Success is liking yourself, liking what you do, and liking how you do it.”
Professor at Babson College and Co-founder of Conscious Capitalism, Raj Sisodia, defines success in two ways. First, success is all about living one’s true purpose. Secondly, he defines success by the ability to have a positive impact on other people’s lives. Specifically, he points out that by inspiring them and lifting them up, one could have a profound impact upon their life and encourage them to rethink the way they act.
Seth Besertnik, CEO of Conductor, defines success as having “little to no regret about what you did.” To him, success is all about the ability to look back at your life and being proud about what you’ve accomplished and created. Also, he highlights you can consider yourself successful if there are no missed opportunities that you regret.
All too often, various kinds of success-related interview questions come up during a job interview. It’s always good to have a ready-made answer for these kinds of situations. Possible questions can include:
- What exactly does the word “success” mean to you?
- What exactly does the word “failure” resemble to you?
- How would you define success?
- What is a failure to you?
- What does success look like to you?
- What does success mean to you?
The intention behind these questions is twofold. Firstly, the interviewer might be interested in discovering how you define success in the workplace. Your answer might give possible insights into your work ethic and how you approach things in general. Secondly, by asking what success means to you, the interviewer might want to gain psychological insights about you and your underlying value system. Essentially, asking you to define success is a work ethic question intended to learn more about your motivation and your measurement system.
Potential answer to the question: “What does success mean to you?”
Personally, I define success by exceeding expectations and by delivering more value than is expected. Therefore, I measure success based on my ability to attain my objective in an excellent manner and on time. Being successful means two specific things for me. On one hand, success is the satisfaction of having achieved a specific goal. On the other hand, success is the recognition one gets for that specific accomplishment. All in all, success motivates me to strive for greatness and excellence. It’s the foundation of my unquenchable desire to contribute a valuable part to the growth of the company.
Following up this question, the interviewer might ask you to name specific examples about your successes in the past.
I hope you enjoyed reading this exploration of the question: What does success mean to you?