• Laura Lin

How Do You Define Success?

Updated: Dec 21, 2019

The other day I found myself driving behind a rather sleek, beautiful silver Porsche. It was one of those cars that you see in a magazine or even in a movie; the kind of car a person drives when they “have arrived.” It got me wondering if this amazing piece of crafted machinery was something they had always dreamed of owning. Was it a status symbol to announce that they were successful?

In youth, we often dream of the perfect car, owning a beautiful home, and going to a prestigious job but life isn’t so cookie-cutter as that. It’s messy, full of surprises and obstacles. Very few end up seeing their youthful visions come to fruition, but does that mean you have failed?

When I was younger, I had ideas of opening my own psychology practice. I wanted to help people, even if it meant not getting paid. That was my goal. I had no vision of a fancy house, a sleek car, or even a figure in my bank account. My idea of success was having a giant desk, one of those thick wooden ones with carvings along the front and legs, and my name on a plate along with other desk accessories (I’m a sucker for office supplies!). I would wear a suit and heels and look ever so put together and polished. I never got my psychology degree, or a big fancy desk, and I certainly don’t wear a suit to work. However, I do not consider myself a failure – time has taught me that the concept of success has many different meanings and ways of presenting itself.

Some people may view their self-worth based solely on the material items they possess. That isn’t entirely a bad thing, as often it is gained through hard work, sacrifice, and perseverance. But what of the man who has climbed the corporate ladder, has the big house and fancy car, yet his child sits in a jail cell and his wife wants a divorce? If he sacrificed everything for material gain but lost his family in the process, is that still seen as a success?

You have probably realized by now that success is a complicated thing and varies by subject matter. There is the success felt in achieving a goal, reaching a position in life, or finding an emotional balance. One can measure success differently in different situations. Our businessman above is successful in his career but not so much in other areas of his life, but one does not negate the other. The goal, however, should be to find harmony in all the various aspects of life. Get the fancy car but do not stress over the payments in order to own it. Get the good job but don’t sacrifice your sanity in the process.

Terri Carr, a cashier at Lowe’s Home Improvement, has found a way to blend her material and personal goals saying that success is having the love and support of friends and family and “just enough money so your bills aren’t behind, and you have food on the table.” She described the concept of success as a “feeling in your heart that everything is right where it’s supposed to be.” Ms. Carr has learned that there is a difference between what the world sees as a success and what brings true happiness.

According to Teawna Pinard, an expert on women’s leadership, we all too often strive to meet others expectations of us, to have the metaphorical “perfect life,” and in doing so, happiness and joy in life escapes us. Pinard explains success like this, “the measure of a successful life isn’t your job title, the size of your house, or the beautiful things you can afford. True success is living the life that is authentic to who you are.” This is why you can find people who have so little and yet are so very happy, because they have found a deeper meaning in life and know that success is not always wrapped up in material gain but is something that comes from within.

Does that mean that all people who have great wealth are miserable? Absolutely not! The definition of success is a very personal matter, and it is only in understanding this that you can find it. Success, however, seems to be synonymous to happiness and therefore a bit of soul searching is in order. Pinard suggests that in order “to find true happiness, you need to define success by what holds real meaning in your life.” Take the time to really examine yourself and the goals you have in place. Are they your goals or someone else's? Write them down and then make plans to get there. Success does not happen overnight. It takes work, perseverance, diligence, and sometimes even sacrifice, but it makes it all the sweeter when you find yourself living the life you desire.

Alex Jasin, CEO of Metapress, says this about successful people, “those who have achieved the greatest amounts of actual success are those who are crystal clear on what it means to reach the top, for them.” Notice that he makes this a matter of personal exploration just as Pinard did and as Carr does. This means that to truly find success in life one must define it for themselves and not on what others dictate for us. You can’t measure yourself against your Facebook friend, a Hollywood celebrity, or the business tycoon. You must decide for yourself what matters to you and what makes you happy and complete.

To help with discovering what you define as success, Jasin poses these six questions for you to consider.

1. What truly matters to me?

2. What are the things that set me on fire with passion?

3. What do I want to make of my life?

4. What lifestyle do I want to achieve?

5. Who do I want to be?

6. What do I want people to say about me after I die?

Jasin explains that the answers to these questions need to be “ultra-specific” in order to know where you want to go and the steps to get there.

Success is a journey, ever-changing and evolving as we grow and change, thus it is not bad if the goals change, but they should always be a reflection of you and what you want, not what others see for you. Take the time to figure out what success means to you and then make a plan to get there. This can bring focus and meaning to a life that may feel lacking or frustrating.

Share in the comments below what your idea of success is. Are you living a successful life? If not, how do you plan to get there? By voicing these things, it will help start your path to success, because you have created a verbal contract. Keep us posted on your journey in order to both find inspiration and give inspiration along the way.