What Is Success?

what is success

If I were to ask you, “how do you feel about success?” What would be your response? Most people would say: I feel great about it, I want more of it, I deserve it, I am working towards it. Why are those feelings so common?

Because most of the people on this planet feel that being a success is a good thing. When they think of success they usually think of material benefits,  happiness, and accomplishment. Certainly, success can include all of these things and more.

Now here’s a personal question, what is success?

You see, personal success comes in many different forms and your concept of being a success might not be the same as mine. If you want to be successful in your life, then the very first thing you should do is to take the time to decide exactly what “success” means to you. Never mind what it means to anyone else, what does it mean to you?

To some people the epitome of being a success is earning a lot of money. In fact society seems to base the whole concept of success primarily by how much money a person earns. But society’s definition has more to do with flash than it does with substance. Many so-called successful people are very unhappy in their personal life. So, we need to ask…

Is that what you think of as being a success?

Having a personal definition of what success means to you, and then setting goals accordingly, is the only way to make your achievements truly meaningful. Striving to succeed according to somebody else’s standard or definition may win you the admiration of others, but will it bring you a sense of personal accomplishment?

If you want to be a success on a level that makes you feel truly satisfied, then I encourage you to take some time right now to write down your personal definition of success. Be specific for each area of your life.

Think about what being financially and emotionally successful would feel like. What kind of relationships would represent successful  relationships to you? Once you’ve achieved some success in these areas, how will you spend your time, your money, and your energy? Who would you spend them with?

Get clear on what success means to you!

If the concept of being a personal success sounds good to you, take the first step today. Discover your personal definition of success and write it down . I promise that you will feel more successful immediately. Here’s the main point to take away from this article: Success is a multifaceted, personal concept. By defining what that concept represents to you personally, and by taking the time to write it down, you will automatically move your life in the direction of success.

In what areas of life do you already feel like a success?
What role do money, friends, and happiness play in success?
How about integrity, honesty, values, love, and compassion?
The lines are open!

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  1. Adam June 4, 2010 Reply

    How do I define success for myself?

    Well, there are many steps in my goal of being successful. They are all intertwined, though; if I can’t have one part of my definition of success, then I haven’t succeeded.

    For instance, two parts of success, for me, are having a clear conscience and being financially secure. If I have to lie, cheat, or steal in order to have enough money to be secure, then I haven’t succeeded.

    Here’s my idea of success:
    Financial Security
    Being a “sage”
    Having a clear conscience
    Having unconditional trust from a select few
    Gaining the habit of cleaning the litter box out daily
    Creating useful tools which others enjoy

    Those aren’t in any specific order, except for the order that I thought of them in. Of course, I tend to think of what I view as most important first, and I think that honesty is the cornerstone of so much in our lives. It isn’t just honesty with other people, but it is honesty with ourselves as well. In fact, it is especially honesty with myself that I feel has pushed me the closest to being successful.

    Gaining the respect of others is important for me, because I tend to live up to people’s expectations more often than not. If I gain people’s respect, then it is easier for me to do the respectable thing… It’s a system which feeds on itself.

    Financial security is important because it removes a lot of temptation from my life. I’ve never heard of a rich man stealing bread. ;) The less that I have to worry about where my next meal is coming from, the more time I can spend fulfilling the other aspects of success.

    Being a “sage” comes back to respect… While I do enjoy being respected for working hard, I realize that my body will probably fail before my mind does. My hips have already gone bad, which prevents me from lifting large weights, so I need to concentrate on gaining knowledge that I can share.

    Having a clear conscience is vitally important… It includes both doing things which I know are right, as well as forgiving myself and others of past mistakes, and realizing a mistake for what it really is.

    Unconditional trust is put in there instead of love, because it is easy to say that you love someone, but the word ‘trust’ isn’t diluted nearly as much by overuse.

    Cleaning the litter box is important to me, because if I can successfully learn that habit, then I can learn (and unlearn) any habit.

    Creating useful tools is listed because I’m a programmer. If I can’t write programs that people find useful, then what use am I? ;)

    • Jonathan June 4, 2010 Reply

      Hey Adam, what a nice, well rounded definition. Thanks for really digging in on the question. You set a great example for others. The litter box thing made me laugh. That’s a biggie!

  2. mdb212 June 4, 2010 Reply

    I’m so glad that I finally found what I was searching for! It doesn’t matter what other people write or think, I just know for sure that I’m right. Here I found all useful information , all I exactly needed for my new experience. It’s not just a great entertaining source, it’s also a way of giving different information for all of us

    • Jonathan June 4, 2010 Reply

      It can be very liberating to cast off the burden of trying to live up to other peoples ideas of success. So glad you found this article useful. That means success in my book.

  3. Eduard June 4, 2010 Reply

    Whoa! Talk about big questions!

    My definition of success changed from having lots of money, to being James Bond, to being a famous expert in some field and finally, to living a life helping others grow as individuals (and o bit of some other stuff). I think that getting clear on what success means to you is one of the most powerful things you can do as a human being.

    • Jonathan June 4, 2010 Reply

      Hey Eduard, as I read the various elements of your definition of success it painted an amazing picture in my mind. I saw a rich, extremely cool, personal development maven contributing to the lives of everyone around him. Nothing wrong with that image my friend.

  4. Sandra Hendricks June 4, 2010 Reply

    Success definitely has a wide range of meanings and outlooks.

    “Striving to succeed according to somebody else’s standard or definition may win you the admiration of others, but will it bring you a sense of personal accomplishment?”

    We cannot afford to base our success on what other people think it is. What success means to everyone is as unique as that person.

    Success, to me, is to accomplish and overcome obstacles that stand in my way. Even some of my seemingly minor changes (successes) are lifelong achievements. Although these achievements mean a lot to me, they may seem irrelevant or even silly to another.

    Thanks for the insight Jonathan. We are all successful in life if we will just take the time to consider the meaning we put on the word success.

    • Jonathan June 4, 2010 Reply

      Hi Sandra, I am glad you linked being successful to making positive changes, even those that might seem insignificant to others. This concept really is at the heart of being successful. It emphasizes that success comes from the inside, not from external sources. It’s entirely personal and we get to decide what success means to us.

  5. Julie June 4, 2010 Reply

    Jonathon, I experience the paradox of never feeling successful and knowing I’m successful every day.

    My personal definition of success is to live so fully in Love that there’s no room for anything but the outpouring of goodness in all its forms. In this, I’m never successful because I trip and stumble and always can see where different words, another act would have served me better. I’m quite successful, because each day I’ve improved in some measure, somewhere. Will I get there in this lifetime? No, and in that I’ll have not been successful. Am I going to be pleased at the end of my life with how I continued striving to be the best person I could be, being as loving in all areas of my life as I could have been? That’s a resounding “Yes!” because it’s a promise I make to myself every day.

    Others in my life have nothing at all to do with the measureof my success, but they each are instrumental to it because they provide the means for me to practice my art. They are my teachers, and quite excellent, too, I might add—in so many ways. By providing opportunity and by exemplifying the ideals I hold dear. By being constants and surprises. By offering me the avenue without which I could ply my trade. I couldn’t succeed without them.

    • Jonathan June 4, 2010 Reply

      Hi Julie, you made a number of truly excellent points. When we look at success as a journey instead of a destination then we can celebrate progress at each step along the way. If our goal is personal development (however we define it) then any degree of perceptible growth represents personal success. Not in an absolute sense, but in a fluid, living, and real way.

      My feelings on success are much like yours and I love my life. I’ve got plenty to work on, and I find that exciting and rewarding. We may all live on the same planet, but our individual perception allows for vastly different realities. Thanks for being here!

  6. timethief June 4, 2010 Reply

    To me success means finding personal satisfaction in the life you live and living to your full potential. It includes personal satisfaction gained when achieving goals in the work that you do but, “success” is applicable to finishing what you planned to do in any aspect of your life. Part of learning how to become successful is learning how to view every setback and obstacle as a stepping stone to future success.

    The Buddhist 8 fold path underlies my personal success measurement: The eight aspects of the path are not to be understood as a sequence of single steps, instead they are highly interdependent principles that have to be seen in relationship with each other.
    1. Right View
    2. Right Intention
    3. Right Speech
    4. Right Action
    5. Right Livelihood
    6. Right Effort
    7. Right Mindfulness
    8. Right Concentration

    • Jonathan June 7, 2010 Reply

      Extremely nice comment TT. I love this expression: “finding personal satisfaction in the life you live and living to your full potential.” That’s really the bottom line I think.

      I also appreciate how you pointed out that all eight of the principles you mentioned are highly interdependent. I totally agree and feel that true success is a holistic state, not some isolated accomplishment.

  7. Marko June 4, 2010 Reply

    Success – our favorite topic… :)

    Short, clear and effective article, Jonathan, a great piece of material.

    It’s amazing how our understanding of word “success” can show how much we will grow. Moreover, I believe that with enough research, we can correctly guess a person’s satisfaction level based on their understanding of the word “success.”

    What is my current understanding of the word success? For me, success means the path on which I am currently moving.

    Currently, for me, success is any change that happens in the present moment.
    Wish you all the best Jonathan… I hope you’ll move in the direction of your success…

    • Jonathan June 7, 2010 Reply

      Greetings Marko, your comments always stimulate a lot of reflection and I really appreciate that. What an insightful correlation between a persons understanding of the concept of success and their sense of personal satisfaction. I hadn’t thought about it in those terms, but totally agree.

      You also mentioned your “current understanding of the word success.” This is an important point. As we grow our understanding of everything changes (hopefully anyway) and that includes our personal concept of success. Thank you my friend.

  8. Dia June 4, 2010 Reply

    Success varies from one person to another. For me, success has to do with:

    1. Health
    2. Career
    3. Finance
    4. Relationships (family and friends)
    5. Spiritual

    We have to make a balance between those 5 categories.

    Thanks for sharing Jonathan

    • Jonathan June 7, 2010 Reply

      Hey Dia, thanks for weighing in. I also think that balance is vital here, as in most areas of life. Without balance our lives becomes lopsided and we begin to work at cross-purposes. Balance is probably the the most advanced of all life skills, and requires constant attention to be maintained.

  9. Kharim June 4, 2010 Reply

    I like this post so much. Found it on my Twitter timeline :)

    I love the points that you brought out in this post about success. Keep up the good work

    • Jonathan June 7, 2010 Reply

      Hi Kharim, and welcome to Advanced Life Skills. I am truly glad that you enjoyed this discussion.

  10. Amit Sodha June 5, 2010 Reply

    Nice topic Jonathan. When I’m having a discussion of success with people and they talk of the success they see in others the first thing I ask them is where are they successful. Everyone has success in different ways, the only time people don’t see it is when they are comparing themselves to others.

    • Jonathan June 7, 2010 Reply

      Nice point Amit. Making comparisons (and competition) is what happens when our concept of success is strictly result oriented. Granted, we all want to produce our intended results, but our sense of “success” shouldn’t be based on that. There will always be people we can learn from and that’s a blessing.

      Comparing ourselves to others can serve to motivate us to make progress, but success is an internal state. We can be a successful person regardless of our “comparative accomplishments.”

  11. Lance June 5, 2010 Reply

    Success…really is personal. And I think that as we journey through our life, what that word means to us can also shift. And that’s okay. For me, the recent discovery has been that success is within my heart. Really, within it. As in – when I’m coming from that place, that’s when I feel most successful. And that is a success in terms of me and what matters (deeply). To some degree, it may not even look like success (to the outside world) – as this may not always have the accolades, the money, the position….
    …and that’s okay…

    • Jonathan June 7, 2010 Reply

      Lance my friend, you nailed it. I agree with everything you said. Success is about who we are, not what we did. Society has a different scale for measuring success and that’s one of the main reasons so many people don’t feel successful. Awesome comment Lance!

  12. Steve June 5, 2010 Reply

    Jonathan, and the rest of you who commented, thanks so much for contributing to this discussion. The best point you made, Jonathan, was that we have to be crystal clear for ourselves as to what success means to us. For me, personally, it means to be connected to a set of core values that I have reflected long and hard on. These core values then help me balance and check what I go after, and how I go after it.

    Coach John Wooden, who recently passed away at age 99, has a great ‘pyramid of success’ that I think summarizes a well rounded picture of success. (You’ll have to google it, so I am not accused of pushing anything :)

    • Jonathan June 7, 2010 Reply

      Hi Steve, indeed, being in harmony with our core values is absolutely essential for true personal success. Many people neglect the discovery and acknowledgment of their core values and that’s a huge mistake.

      If we aren’t in touch with our personal ethics and standards we can easily make decisions that create inner conflict. This often results in self-sabotaging behavior with no clue why.

  13. Dr Paul Dyer June 6, 2010 Reply

    In my view, success is about surrendering to our life’s purpose. It’s about saying “Yes” to our Calling. The outcomes, e.g., money, status, etc., are not the measuring stick, but rather how sold out we are to the “Yes.” Great blessings will certainly follow, but the blessings are a by-product, and IMHO, the outcomes should never become the primary goal.

    • Jonathan June 7, 2010 Reply

      Greetings Paul and welcome to Advanced Life Skills. I agree with your perspective. A person who is in harmony with there true self is already a success. As such, the evidence of their inner success will manifest in tangible ways.

      Contrary to popular opinion, this concept does not work in reverse. In other words, pursuing the appearance of success (the trappings) will not help us discover our true self and find that inner sense of success.

      Having worked with many wealthy but unhappy people, I believe this is why the pursuit of material success as a main goal is so often a very empty victory.

  14. JM June 6, 2010 Reply

    Awesome post, Jonathan. Some people attribute success to wealth, but in my opinion success is what you make out of life. If your experiences help you become a better person, that for me is success. If your experiences taught you things in life that you would never learn in school, then that is success to me.

    • Jonathan June 7, 2010 Reply

      Hi JM, you make a nice distinction here. There is a huge difference between living successfully, and being seen as a success according to the monetary measuring line. It’s the difference between substance and flash.

  15. Mike King June 6, 2010 Reply

    Great question Jonathan and people’s discussion and responses are great. My definition has taken years to discover a very succinct way and is simply, “Living consistently on purpose”. This obviously leads to what is purpose then and that requires a bit more definition as another topic though. Success to me though is quite simple and if I’m living on purpose, I can definitely see the success.

    • Jonathan June 7, 2010 Reply

      Hi Mike, I know you to be a man in touch with his purpose and I relate to the dimension that such purpose brings to life. It completely changes the way we measure success, as your definition shows. It also frees us from the shallow interpolation of those who would attempt to scrutinize our personal level of success. Thank you my friend.

  16. Liza Manuel June 7, 2010 Reply

    I used to define success as having a lot of money and getting everything you want. But as I get mature and experience life, I realized that money is not everything. Success for me is being happy and satisfied with what I do because I know I can make a difference in other people’s lives. I am a teacher, although I don’t really earn much, but I get a feeling of fulfillment when I see my students learn from me. And that’s what I call success.

    • Jonathan June 7, 2010 Reply

      Liza, that’s what I call success also. You could add money to your success and it would just be a side benefit. But all the money in the world could not provide the same sense of fulfillment and deep satisfaction you are already experiencing. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and feelings.

  17. Phil June 7, 2010 Reply

    Jonathan –

    Success is a completely subjective concept – one person’s meat is another’s poison. Success for me is to be at peace with myself (and the universe), making the lives of others happier and more sustainable and living my values. Give me those and I’m Mr. Successful. Great post.


    • Jonathan June 7, 2010 Reply

      Phil, that was such a nice summation of this whole issue. The only thing I will add is bravo!

  18. Robin Easton June 7, 2010 Reply

    Dear Jonathan, what a lovely post. I found it very soothing, free-ing, and definitely outside the box of American cultural thinking.

    I agree that success has almost become synonymous with money, and ONLY money. People are often shamed or judge if they do NOT have tons of money, a fancy vehicle, home, clothes, eat at the most expensive restaurants, and so on. And sadly that path is not only destroying the planet on many levels by fostering “more is better”, creating great waste and so on, but it also negates the deep needs of the soul for a more meaningful way of life.

    I often feel that our youth are very lost and have been abandoned to this form of success. Lost, because they are innately hungry for something deeper, more meaningful and cannot find it anywhere in the culture around them. They may or may not be aware of this, but it STILL affects how they feel and behave.

    I LOVED Julie’s comment and had similar thoughts, but she has worded it far better than I could have.

    I am grateful to you for seeing, embracing and living deeper values in your own life and the lives of others. There is SO much room for change in the world surrounding the concept of Success ONLY = Money. Money can be part of the picture, but will never be the whole picture. In fact, we could take money totally out of the picture (even globally), and we STILL are capable of experiencing deep gratifying success.

    Thank you my dear friend.

    • Jonathan June 7, 2010 Reply

      Hello Robin, thank you for being here and bringing your depth of understanding and compassion. I often wonder what the human race would be like if money had never been invented. I know that money isn’t to blame for shallow values and greed, but it sure seems to lend itself to the expression of such traits.

      I think that if people were taught with awareness form infancy to seek real value (substance over flash) it would produce a completely different set of values. So, we do our part and hope that the ripple effect turns into a tidal wave someday.

  19. Shan June 7, 2010 Reply

    Jonathan- My success in life and here after is to be a nice, simple straight forward person..Fulfill my duty to the best of my ability and always be grateful and optimistic of my strength and achievement. I am hoping to learn and be optimistic by following your technique and advice. Wonderful site to change and become a better person. Keep up the good work and keep us informed of any new developments.

    • Jonathan June 7, 2010 Reply

      Hi Shan and welcome. Being grateful and optimistic are definitely key factors to personal success. Focusing on those is an excellent way to invest your energy.

  20. Nea June 7, 2010 Reply

    In my younger years I defined success by what others thought of me. If my car, house, attire failed to make a good impression on the world, I wasn’t successful. But success continued to allude me until I decided what was important to me, took stock of my own life, and began to live out MY dreams. I realized in that moment of awakening that I was already successful. And so I am.

    • Jonathan June 8, 2010 Reply

      Hi Nea, that’s a nice story with a really valuable lesson attached. You couldn’t find success from external sources, but you quickly found it internally where it originates. And you know what? It shows :)

  21. Marion June 8, 2010 Reply

    Really thought provoking post. My idea of success – contentment. I don’t mean just putting up with things and tolerating life I mean being truly myself and living my life without striving.

    • Jonathan June 8, 2010 Reply

      Hi Marion, contentment – what a beautiful concept that is. Makes me feel good just saying the word. Thanks for bringing such a soothing word into the conversation.

  22. rob white June 8, 2010 Reply

    Hi Jonathan,
    What a great discussion you have going on here. As you and others have pointed out success stretches across the different domains of life. Ultimately we feel successful when we are in service to humanity in our own unique way. I have been considerably successful in the financial domain of life and can tell everyone first hand that there is so much more to life than material gain. Which is why I am creating this epoch in my life called: Author. I always feel successful when I can uplift people around me a notch.

    • Jonathan June 9, 2010 Reply

      Hi Rob and thanks for joining the conversation. I have worked with so many financially rich, emotionally impoverished people that I always try to think in terms of “personal Success.” That reminds me that “success stretches across the different domains of life.” I like to think of material gain as a byproduct of personal success rather than a main focus point.

  23. Sibyl Chavis June 12, 2010 Reply

    Jonathan: Great post and great point. I think you really do need to define what success means for you. You have to set your own goal posts and then move toward them. It is important to really know exactly where you are trying to go. I have noticed that my definition of success has changed overtime. For me, one of the most important things is knowing that I am living aligned and that I am doing things I know are consistent with my core beliefs. I think you really made an important point though about writing your definition of success down. It really helps you work toward more and more clarity as you learn more about yourself and what your true definition of success is. Thanks for the great advice.

    • Jonathan June 16, 2010 Reply

      Hi Sibyl, this statement of yours pretty much sums up my whole definition of success: “knowing that I am living aligned and that I am doing things I know are consistent with my core beliefs.” Do that and the rest will unfold naturally.

  24. Tamal August 11, 2011 Reply

    Excellent article on how to become successful in life. I think real success in life is when you are fully happy with whatever you have.

  25. Navneet Chandra February 18, 2012 Reply

    I always thought all the things that have already been mentioned like hardwork, experience, attitude, positive approach, persistence etc are what creates success and then i attended my school reunion… After 25 years, i met a lot of my old friends and teachers. Among them was my English teacher, a 70 year old spinster ( Now deceased) . Most of us, from different parts of the world, came specifically to meet this teacher ( a terror in my school days and among the most hated). I looked around and all i could see were successful people some businessmen, some head of organizations, some professors but all of them successful. Yet the most successful of us all and the happiest from her expressions was this old English Teacher. I was forced to change not only my definition of success but also what you need to be successful.

    To me… Success is all about what you see in the mirror every morning.. If what you see makes you happy and proud, you are a success !!!! Every thing else or any other opinion doesn’t matter. To be successful, you need all the things we said is required but the most critical thing is “the ability to make a difference”.


  26. Ken Wert April 5, 2013 Reply

    Hey Jonathan. This is an important article, especially in the midst of so much attention and frustration and anxiety over the economy.

    Some of the most successful people I’ve known have had average-sized houses and drove 7-year old cars and lived modest to modestly comfortable lifestyles.

    But they were amazingly successful parents. Or amazingly successful spouses. They were amazing examples of human decency or service or happiness. Did they have the trappings of successful lives as defined by Fortune 500 or Money Magazine? Perhaps not.

    But even many of those who make millions (or more) are very unsuccessful in other areas of their lives—in their marriages or as parents or neighbors or neglect their intellectual or spiritual or moral lives.

    So how we choose to define success determines what in our lives we focus our energies on. Some focus on material success. Others focus elsewhere. I’m not convinced material success is the best way to define the term.

    Thanks for the reminder, Jonathan.

  27. Shawn April 15, 2013 Reply

    I have been reading several different places that writing things down is the best way to clarify what you want and will set your intentions out there. I have been doing that with my goals and it really helps a lot. Today, after reading this, I wrote down what success is to me and it really made me think. I know that this will change many times over, and I will be redefining what success is to me until the day I die, but I fee like I have a good start. Thanks for the post!

  28. christian June 10, 2013 Reply

    hello there.. :)
    Now I finally know what “success” means to me. I think it is when I can do what others think I can’t, because it is the right thing to do, to prove your worth as a person that your happiness or success will not rely on their thoughts towards you.

    Thanks for the post! Now I can create my own concept of success.

  29. wani jackson May 13, 2014 Reply

    i like the discussion and it has helped me have a better understanding of success in life. Before reading it i couldn’t identify how success can be achieved and not only that but again how i can make my self a success. Now through this discussion i know i will find ways to move forward toward attaining success.

  30. Srey Pov June 2, 2014 Reply

    Thank you for sharing great idea. Your explanations made me understand about the meaning of success. I will try to define my own success. I believe time will answer my question. I hope that this will direct my journey in life very well.

  31. Brian Dzimbiri July 15, 2014 Reply

    Success really means alot to alot of people. it depends on how you understand the meaning yourself. as for me success means being secure financially and to live peaceful and productive life. I love and enjoy being honesty all the time. to make my life partner feel 100% secured and to build trust in few people i know.
    I love caring about other people’s problems. always love to be the one who brings a solution and smile to disabled people.

    succeess is to have a peace of mind. to have everything go right even when you dnt have alot of money.

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