The Definition of Success: What's Your Personal Definition?

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Success can be defined in many different ways, but it's up to you which one to choose. Here, we'll talk about a bunch of different definitions so you can discover your own definition of success.

Do you sometimes feel like society's definition of success leaves something to be desired? Have you experienced some typical "success" and wonder why it hasn't made you happy? Or do you just want to better understand what success means to you? Then this article can help. Read on to learn more about the definition of success and engage in some reflections about what success means to you.

  • ​Before getting started, we thought you might also be interested in our well-being quiz—quiz yourself to see which aspects of well-being are your strong and weak spots. ​
  • And if you're a well-being entrepreneur, coach, or consultant, check out our free Wellness Business Growth eBook to get expert tips, tools, and resources to grow your wellness business fast.

What Is The Definition of Success?

Merriam-Webster defines success as a "favorable or desired outcome". It can also be the "attainment of wealth, favor, or eminence".  These definitions leave a lot of room for variations among people. Indeed, the research supports that. When researchers ask men and women what their definitions of success are, they get a whole range of answers, and those answers change over time.

Overall, women define success more in terms of life balance and relationships whereas men focus more on material success (Dyke & Murphy, 2006). But variations in definition can also depend on age, personality, and prior experience. 

Example Definitions of Success

​Here are some examples that regular people shared with their definitions of success:
  • "Accomplishing the goal of helping myself and others lead a better, happier, healthier life."
  • "Achievement of goals that help others succeed."
  • "Positive outcome after hard effort and useful experience."
  • "Success is about perception. It can be a defeat, but if you think that it is a good result you will be happy."
  • "To me, success is felt and realized when our works achieve acclaim. A sense of satisfaction at the end of each day is success too."
  • "A successful person is one who done his work properly."
  • "Success is the achievement of a desired goal, such as for obtaining name and fame or wealth or a higher degree, for which a person has tried his level best. It is the positive consequence of one's achievement."
John Wooden's Definition of Success
John Wooden, a respected coach and teacher, offered his own definition of success that's a little different than others. He said:
Success is peace of mind that is the direct result of self-satisfaction in knowing you did your best to become the best that you are capable of becoming.”

What Is the Definition of Success for You

Now that you've explored some other people's definitions of success, what is success for you?

Here are some questions to ask yourself:
  • What makes you the happiest? 
  • What satisfies your core needs
  • What do you value?
  • What types of accomplishments feel the most worthwhile to you?
  • Does your idea of success have multiple parts?

In addition to reflecting on these questions, it might be helpful to explore what your definition of success is in the context of well-being (our favorite!) More specially, we might define success as gaining a sense of well-being. So let's talk a little bit about these aspects of life and well-being, which might also help us understand what success means to us.

The Definition of Success in Different Areas of Life

Consider if each of the parts that make up well-being below is necessary for you to feel successful. 
  1. Emotional success (i.e., feeling good)
  2. Social success (i.e., feeling connected)
  3. Occupational success (i.e., feeling fulfilled by your work)
  4. Financial success (i.e., being able to afford the things you need)
  5. Community success (i.e., the well-being of your friends, family, and larger community)

You might have different definitions for important areas of your life, like work, business, or relationships. If so, think about or write down how you would define success in each of these areas. For example:
  • What is the definition of success in business?
  • What is the definition of success in a romantic relationship?
  • What is the definition of success in friendships?
  • What is the definition of success in life?

See if you can find any themes or find more clarity on what success means to you.

Then, ask yourself, what would need to happen to achieve these different parts of success? For example, I might need to practice acceptance to feel more emotionally successful. I might work on building healthier relationships to feel socially successful. And I might develop long-term goals to help me achieve financial success, as I define it.

Your Personal Definitions of Success

Hopefully, you now have a better sense of what success means to you. But, by getting even more specific and clear, we're likely to have an easier time reaching our personal goals. Here are some activities that can help you get even clearer on your definition of success so you can get there easier.

Free-flow writing to explore your definition of success
Sometimes we get kind of stuck in our heads—I know I do!—and we have a hard time listening to our gut, intuition, or emotions about what's right for us. Free-flow writing can sometimes help clear away the surface-level thoughts and get us to our deeper beliefs on what matters to us. 

​So to do this exercise, set aside 5 minutes where you write in response to the prompt: "Success to me is..." Rewrite this prompt as many times as you need, continuing to try to complete this sentence in increasingly nuanced detail. At the end of the 5 minutes, look back at your writing and see if you learned anything new about what success means to you.

Set 'definition of success' criteria
Take a moment to think through your dealbreakers—the things that you need in life to feel successful. Now, be careful, because often we focus on the things we want and not the things we need. For example, we might want a big house and a nice car but we can be successful and happy without them.

So, see if you can identify your specific criteria for success. Here are some examples from my own life that might be helpful:
  • I need time to spend with my friends and family.
  • I need a creative outlet.
  • I need to experience new things.
  • I need a safe space to retreat to.
  • I need to do something positive for humanity.

These examples can hopefully show how our needs are a bit more abstract than wants. I want to have a nice, big house and the ability to travel, but at the heart of it, I just need a safe space and the ability to experience new things. See if you too can get to the heart of what your needs are. These needs can serve as the criteria of success for you.

The Definition of Success Essay

Sometimes students are asked to write an essay about their definitions of success. Given all the work you've just done to better understand your definition of success, now might a good time to write this essay for yourself. That way, you'll remember the insights you had and you can keep them handy as you are pursuing success. 

So how do you write a definition of success essay?

It's easy. If it helps you, you could create an outline that includes the main parts or features of how you define success. Then for each part, talk a bit more about what it means to you, and how you might accomplish this. Or, if you've already accomplished some parts of success, then you could add detail about what was involved. The overall goal here could be to just document your definition. That way, if you're feeling yourself get sucked into someone else's definition of success—one that doesn't fit you—you can look back at this and stay on track.