How Do You Define Success?

Tom Flick

What is “success,” anyway? Is it having a lot of money or a high-profile job? Or perhaps it’s being famous and having the love and adoration of millions of people? Or maybe it’s something else entirely?

No matter how you define success, the chances are good that someone else has an entirely different definition. While there’s technically no wrong answer, some definitions of success can lead us down paths that are ultimately unfulfilling, and which leave us feeling less than successful.

If you feel like you’ve been chasing success but can’t seem to reach it, you’re not alone. Read on to learn more about how you can redefine—and get—the authentic version of success.

How Do You Define Success?

“Rise early, work late, and strike oil!” was the formula for success offered by oil tycoon J. Paul Getty.

Comedian Steve Martin’s take on the idea of success is “Earn a million dollars and don’t pay taxes on it, and when the IRS comes knocking on your door asking ‘Why?,’ just say, ‘I forgot.’”

There are some profound ideas about success, such as one from Woody Allen: “If you’re not failing, again and again, it’s a sign that you’re playing it safe.” In other words, success requires risk. Success requires taking chances.

Here’s another comment: “You can tell when you’re on the right track; it’s usually uphill.” This implies success isn’t something you fall into or are born with. Instead, it’s something you achieve because of hard work. 

A comment from Albert Einstein that caught our eye said “Try not to become a man or woman of success; rather, try to become a man or woman of value.” This notion of character tells us that success should not be measured by what we possess but rather by who we are. The person we become says more about us than anything else.

Some Observations

If our observations are correct, most people struggle with being successful. We think we’re not as successful as we believe we should be and, if you’re over 40 years old, you may feel like success has eluded you. The opportunities to be successful are ebbing away, and we fear that we won’t reach our goals—which will communicate to the world that “I’m successful.”

This struggle is not a conscious effort, but most of us are in the process of faking success because we’ve never really defined in our minds what success really is—so, as a result, we don’t know if we’ve got it—but we suspect that we didn’t. 

We believe that once you hit this “thing” called “success,” it causes all these emotional changes—good feelings or good vibrations and suddenly we can say “Yes! I know that I’m successful because I ‘feel’ successful.”

The Pathway to Success

Simply put, there’s no singular definition of success, and one size doesn’t fit all: While some people’s version of success is having money and fast cars, others might be about having a family or doing volunteer work.

Working with organizations and people, we’ve realized the pathway to success begins where few of us think. It starts with your definition of what success is. If you don’t clearly know what success is—to you—you’ll never recognize it when you get there. 

Though success is different for everyone, people who feel the most “successful” often share many of the same traits and philosophies. In most cases, feeling successful comes down to being truly satisfied with yourself and reaching meaningful personal goals—not necessarily being wealthy, consequential, or famous.

Look at these critical factors of success. How many do you incorporate into your life?

Pursuing Fulfillment Over Happiness

Many people think that chasing happiness will ultimately make them successful or being successful will make them happy. After all, if we get all the things that make us happy, won’t we be successful?

While being successful can make us happy, it’s only a byproduct rather than a building block. Ironically, solely pursuing happiness at the expense of other feelings and emotions can leave us feeling miserable. So, what’s worth pursuing?

Many successful people cite fulfillment as the true feeling of success. Though you can feel happy and fulfilled at the same time, fulfillment requires much more than happiness.

As a simple example, imagine hiking a large mountain. As you make your way to the summit, the path gets steeper and harder to navigate. After a lot of sweat and hard work, you finally reach the summit and feel fantastic—in other words, fulfilled. However, you wouldn’t feel so fulfilled had it not been for all that sweat and hard work.

So, it seems that feeling fulfilled or successful isn’t just about happiness: It’s about all the things, whether good or bad, that surround achieving your goals. Speaking of achieving goals …

Setting and Achieving Goals

Successful people are notorious for setting goals and doing everything they can to achieve them. Though some people set bigger goals than others, you don’t need to have big dreams to feel successful.

Successful people understand the importance of small, achievable goals and set plenty for themselves. They know that small goals are easier to achieve and keep the momentum alive to pursue more of them. Whether these small goals are part of a more significant aim or simply “one-offs,” keeping them consistent and achievable is a great way to feel successful regularly. Plus, if your small goals are part of a bigger plan, you’ll make consistent gradual progress and ultimately feel even more successful.

Be True to Yourself

Don’t compare yourself to others. No matter your goals or self-confidence, it can be difficult to avoid comparing yourself to other people. While some comparison is natural and difficult to avoid, redefining yourself and your sense of success around others (and not your own goals) is a dangerous and unfulfilling trap.

Worst of all, even if you do finally reach someone else’s “level,” you’ll probably feel much less fulfilled and successful than you may have anticipated. In the end, it’s always better to be the best version of yourself, which is the final key factor in our definition of success.

Being the Best Version of Yourself (Not Someone Else!)

Whenever we set out to improve ourselves, we often try to emulate qualities we perceive in “successful” people in our lives or popular culture. While successful people can always teach us a lesson or two, many people fall into the trap of trying to become the people they admire rather than becoming the best version of their unique selves.

No matter your goals, always make sure that you’re becoming the best version of yourself and not a carbon copy of someone else. Not only will you feel more successful, but you’ll also be a more valuable person as a unique and self-actualized individual.

Tips for Achieving Success

Defining success is only half the battle—the other half is achieving it! However, just as there’s more than one way to define success, there’s also more than one way to achieve it. In any case, keeping these tips in mind can help make the journey much more accessible.

Set Realistic Goals and Celebrate Milestones

No matter how big or small your goals are, setting realistic goals and milestones is essential for success. “Realistic” is the key word, here, as making a mad dash toward big, unrealistic goals can be daunting and discouraging and usually results in disappointment.

Even if you do have big goals, try setting smaller goals along the way. As you achieve each goal, you’ll feel more successful and confident as you make gradual progress toward complete success.

Don’t Compare Yourself to Others

Like we discussed earlier, comparing yourself to others is a quick path to disappointment. Instead, be happy and honest about who you are and strive to be the best version of yourself. While you can compare yourself to others in some categories, your goal should be to learn and grow to become better than you were yesterday—not how other people are now.

Be Kind to Yourself

Even the most successful people make mistakes from time to time, and that’s okay! Mistakes and failures are essential learning experiences that allow us to grow from the experience. Though it’s easy to get discouraged, it’s best to forgive yourself and learn from your mistakes instead.

Always keep in mind to celebrate the progress you’ve made, and don’t beat yourself up when you encounter setbacks.

Woman feeling free among sunflowers

Ask for Help

Finally, it’s crucial to remember that no single person is an island; it does, indeed, take a village to become successful. Every successful person can name plenty of people who helped them along their journey.

As you work toward your goals, don’t hesitate to reach out to friends, family, and mentors when you need help or advice—they’ll be happy to help! A mentor or coach is also a great resource, especially if they have a background in your industry or professional development.

Achieving Success with Personalized Coaching

At Tom Flick Leadership, we believe everyone needs a coach. Someone in your corner to challenge, support, and provide guidance while helping to develop skills and potential that would otherwise be left untapped. Finding a coach is one of the best ways to ensure success. With the right coach or mentor, you’ll remain encouraged and motivated as you navigate the path to success.

Depending on your needs, however, you may benefit from either personalized or group coaching. Group coaching is best for helping groups or teams achieve a common goal. Personalized or customized coaching is ideal for individual purposes and personal development. A personalized coach will also tailor their coaching to your personality and goals, making it one of the most effective coaching methods available.

Take the First Steps Toward Success Today

While achieving success is a personal process, that doesn’t mean you have to go it alone. With the right coach or mentor, you can fast-track your way to success while staying motivated as you receive the proper feedback.

To get started on your journey to success, call Tom Flick Leadership at (425) 868-9090 to learn more about our personalized and group coaching options.