I was at lunch with several people the other day and the subject of my upcoming book came up. I shared with them that I was writing about money, success, and happiness.
One of the women immediately asked me, “So how do you define success?”
My initial response was, “It’s a great question and I’m finding through my research that most people define it differently now than they did a few years ago.”
But she persisted, “Yes, but how do YOU define it?”
I struggled to answer her question.
Here I am writing a book about success and I was reaching for the words to describe how I define it.
As I reflected on it later, my first thought was, it’s not really about success. It’s about being happy. Yes, that’s it. The goal is happiness, not success.
But as I thought further, I realized that’s not really how I feel. That’s a cop-out. Success is important to me.
I began to evaluate different parts of my life and ask myself what made me feel successful in each one.
I feel successful in my relationship with my husband.
After all, we’ve been married 30 years. I pondered what it was that made me feel that’s a success (outside of society telling me that being married 30 years is a success). And, I think it’s this: We made a commitment to each other 30 years ago and we’ve held to it. We’ve grown together. We’ve persevered when times were tough. We never gave up. And 30 years later we are best friends, we still make a great team, and we’re happy.
I feel successful when it comes to my children.
I’ve raised two responsible, respectful kids. I think I’ve taught them how to be good people and give everything their all. Are my kids perfect? Of course not. But I gave it my all. I did my best. And, I’m proud of the people they turned out to be.
I feel successful when it comes to my work.
In all of my jobs, careers, and businesses I have always given it my all. I’ve done my best. I’ve tried to stay in integrity. I’ve held true to my convictions. I’ve always tried to make a contribution. I’ve held nothing back. As a result, I feel good about the work I have done.
In the past, like many of the people I interviewed for my book, I would have defined success in external, tangible, measurable terms.
The 30-year marriage. Two kids that excelled in sports and went to college. The vice president job title or the business that made six figures.
Success for me is now far more personal.
It’s an internal game. It’s about challenging myself. It’s about knowing I’ve done my best. It’s about feeling good about what I’ve accomplished. It’s about setting my own standards and goals, and striving to reach them, not measuring my accomplishments by someone else’s yardstick.
It’s measured by a feeling—a sense of accomplishment.
I’m still grappling with putting it into words—into a sound bite. I may still struggle the next time someone asks me how I define success. And I think that’s okay. It’s a big question. Maybe it deserves a big, thoughtful answer.