While conducting research for my book Breaking the Spell, I interviewed many people about money, success, and happiness. Everyone I interviewed had come to their own conclusion about what success means and the role it plays in their life. To some success is about accomplishment. To others it’s being able to do what they want, when they want—in other words, it’s about freedom.
Following is a sampling of the definitions of success people shared with me.
It’s about achieving goals. It’s feeling good about yourself and what you’re doing. It’s having an abundant life. It’s seizing every moment of every day. It’s maximizing your potential. It’s being able to reach into your pocket and not worry about where that dollar came from or where it’s going.
It’s living life to the fullest. It’s a happy family. It’s enjoying what you’re doing. It’s making a difference. It’s never having to say “I can’t afford it.” It’s having healthy relationships. It’s feeling confident.
It’s being good at something. It’s being known for something. It’s generating an income. It’s working for yourself and not someone else. It’s being satisfied with your quality of life. It’s excelling at your pursuits. It’s getting good grades. It’s being surrounded by friends. It’s climbing the corporate ladder. It’s doing your work to the best of your ability. It’s being happy with the way things are and not worrying about what could have been.
Clearly, defining success is a very personal matter.
Yet, it doesn’t appear that it’s always been so personal. In fact, most people I surveyed shared that the way they define success has changed over the years. Most used to define success in the traditional ways: accomplishment, and what might be called the external symbols of success—a college education, a good job, a successful business, money, a nice house, and a nice car. That appears to be changing.