How Do You Define Success?

November 14, 2019  |  No Comments  |  by Terrylynn Smith  |  Blog

“All successful people have a goal.”

Norman Vincent Peale

In my previous post, I shared my 5 steps to take to have a successful day. (If you haven’t read it yet—please go and read it.) But there’s actually more to the story. You can’t really declare a day to be “successful” if you haven’t yet defined success. Without that understanding, how will you know if you’ve had a successful day—or in fact, whether you’re achieving long-term success at all?

Wrong Assumptions About Success

When we talk about this or that person being “successful,” what are we usually referring to? For most people, a successful person is one who makes a lot of money, has a big house and a nice car, has a rewarding career, and so on. But these aren’t markers of success in and of themselves—they are only status symbols. They’re just things. If you’re chatting at a party with a wealthy, high-powered attorney who flies to Europe every other weekend with a Victoria’s Secret model on his arm, you might be inclined to assume he is successful. But what if he really wanted to be a ballet dancer and he went to law school only to satisfy the demands of his parents? Is he truly successful?

Think about that for a moment…

Probably not.

See what I mean? Part of why we have a hard time defining success is that we’re measuring it by symbols, rather than understanding what success really means.

Success Is Much Simpler than We Think

This might seem like oversimplifying or even being too obvious, but out of curiosity I decided to go to a respected source to find a definition for “success:” the dictionary. Here are a couple of definitions I found that make a lot of sense:

From “the favorable or prosperous termination of attempts or endeavors; the accomplishment of one’s goals.” (emphasis mine)

From Merriam-Webster: “favorable or desired outcome.”

To me, these definitions reveal the heart behind any success: When you set a goal and you achieve that goal, you have succeeded. It’s really that simple. That’s why one of the five steps to a successful day is to write down your goals for the day. If you don’t set a destination, how will you know when you’ve arrived? Likewise, if you don’t set a goal, how will you know if you succeeded?

I really like boiling down success to its basic element. To me, a successful day is one in which I accomplish at least some of what I set out to do that day. And because big successes are built on lots of small ones, if I set daily goals that are in line with my larger goals, every successful day adds to the momentum so that I have ongoing success. Does that make sense?

Now, does that mean wealth is not a measure of success? (Some of you clicked through and read the other dictionary definitions…didn’t you?) Yes, I believe success can involve wealth—especially IF achieving wealth was your goal. But sometimes we want and need other things that are just as important, and even more so. If a person doesn’t have wealth or status but is happy and fulfilled in everyday life, to me, that person is more successful than the high-powered lawyer with the Victoria’s Secret model who secretly wishes he were a ballet dancer.

Of course, these are just my ideas about success, and they are how I approach my daily practice of the five steps. What’s more important is how YOU define success. Do you have clearly defined goals for what you want, both short-term and long-term? If you are currently seeking a new job or a career change, are you looking for a job that is in line with your goals?

Part of my job as a career coach is to help my clients understand what their own picture of success looks like, and to help them craft goals to help them get there. I’m not interested in just helping people become gainfully employed—I’m interested in helping them be fulfilled in the process, based on what success means for them. If you need help clarifying your career goals, I can certainly help. Shoot me an email at, or call me at 646-320-1126 to set up a free 30-minute consultation.

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