Professional Development

How to define what success means to you & act on it

What is success? Google it and you’ll find thousands of different equations. Success =  Planning + Execution. Success = Goals. Success = Sweat + Sacrifice. Success = Ideas + Work x Luck. How could success be so many different things? Because success is a deeply personal affair. There is no universal definition of success, nor should there be. If it were a singular definition, then we’d all be working to achieve someone else’s version of success, rather than our own. While it is refreshing that we all have the ability to individually define what success means to us, it can also be incredibly intimidating to figure it out.

Ask the average person what success means and they’re likely to answer with the following:

-Getting promoted

-Making a certain salary

-Losing 15 pounds 

-Overcoming a fear of failure

There isn’t anything wrong with those answers, but they are likely to be inadequate in the long run. If you lose 15 pounds – now what? Have you reached your epitome of success? If you gain 5 pounds are you now unsuccessful? In reality, those answers represent milestones that can help you attain the success you desire. Achieving those milestones is still something worth celebrating and being proud of, but they do not necessarily represent success in themselves.

Reaching a milestone is not success

This may seem counterintuitive. However, milestones are the little steps we take on the way to success, not success itself. Success will never be one thing. Success is a culmination of things, and your definition of it will continue to evolve throughout life. The freedom that comes along with this evolution means that there isn’t one exact way for you to achieve success.

For example, let’s say you don’t get that promotion that you’ve been vying for. Are you out of luck? Sure, in a brief moment of despair, you might say “yes”. But a person bent on achieving success would understand that even though they did not reach that milestone, it does not mean they can’t branch off on another path to success. 

Allowing your definition of success to be bigger than any individual milestone gives you the freedom to do what’s necessary to actually get there.  

How should you go about defining success?

If milestones, like losing weight and getting a promotion, are not success, how are we supposed to define it? You can develop a definition of what success means to you by evaluating what’s important in your life. The following 4 life pillars are beneficial in helping to narrow down your specific list

1. Family & Relationships 

2. Finance

3. Fulfillment

4. Fitness & Health

Family & Relationships

What relationships fit into your vision of success? Is starting a family a part of that picture? Working towards success is rarely achieved in a vacuum. So whether or not these relationships primarily serve as a support network, or as a milestone, it’s essential to understand what relationships mean to you in the context of success.


What level of financial support and freedom do you need to create in order to achieve success? Taking time to evaluate both your current and future financial needs is essential. Having money for money’s sake is a superficial way to define success. However, ensuring you have enough money is an integral part of making sure you can support yourself on your journey.


This is a lofty quest, but a very important one. What makes you feel fulfilled? Be careful in answering this. It’s easy to get caught up in a career-oriented line of thinking. It’s quite possible that your career brings you a tremendous amount of fulfillment. But it’s also very likely that it doesn’t.

Fulfillment can come in many forms. Perhaps you may find it in philanthropy, hobbies, passions…you name it. It’s narrow-minded to think that your career should bring you all the fulfillment that you seek. So whether or not this piece of your definition of success involves a career or not, allow yourself the freedom to explore this question fully. 

Fitness & Health

If part of your definition of success is being able to run a marathon – good on you. That might be a bit more extreme than what most of us are aiming for. But while health and fitness may or may not be a huge part of your vision for success, the bottom line is that the less healthy you are, the more difficult achieving success will be. This not a pitch for a specific exercise, diet plan, or weight goal. It is a reminder that your definition of success should incorporate what’s necessary for you to be healthy enough to enjoy and sustain what you’ve worked so hard to develop. 

What’s next?

If you’ve spent the time to evaluate those 4 important life pillars, you’ll have a much better idea of what your individual definition of success is. The important thing to remember is that there is no right or wrong answer. Your definition should be personal, meaningful, and true to you. If you ended up with additional questions left unanswered, recall that your definition of success will evolve with time. Success won’t happen overnight, and neither will your definition of it. 

You’ve figured out what success means to you, now what?

Develop milestones

While reaching a milestone isn’t success in and of itself, that doesn’t mean that milestones don’t serve an important purpose. Milestones will help to give you satisfaction and continued motivation as you work towards your lofty aspirations. They also serve as an aid in tracking your progress. Just remember that these milestones are simply the steps you take to achieve success. That’s important for two reasons:

1. Failing to reach a milestone is not the reason you fail to succeed. Instead, it is a reminder to reevaluate if that particular milestone will help you towards your vision for success. Don’t be afraid of failure or the necessity to reconsider your strategy.

When Walt Disney was fired from his newspaper cartoonist job, he didn’t give up on his vision of success. He switched gears to pursue a creative outlet in film animation. 

2. If it can be measured, it can be managed. Milestones are a great way to track your progress. Think of your journey to success like a road trip. You know where you want to go, and you know where you started. But if you don’t have any mile markers or signs along the way, it’s hard to gauge where you are – let alone discern whether you’re taking the most efficient route.

Be wary of external influence 

Superficial milestones and definitions of success are often linked to external influences. Be cautious as you’re developing a definition of what success means to you. It’s essential to be honest about what you really view as success. This is your definition. Not a definition that your parents, society, or social media is setting for you. Be honest about what you want, set your milestones, and start building the successful life you’re envisioning.   

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