What is Success Anyway?


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.

Not anymore.

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.


About Debbie

Debbie worked in marketing for 32 years and ran a successful coaching and consulting business for 19. She now teaches marketing and helps people find greater happiness and success by learning how to Follow Inspiration.

10 comments on “What is Success Anyway?

  1. hi Debbie, thanks for this. when i launched ” women with passion” in 2004 in Vienna, it was based on a bunch of young 40 year old ish women i had met in vienna whom i said ” have achieved success on their terms” kids, happy working , family, multiple languages multiple passports…. key is, “on their terms”
    I feel happiness is similar – to each on their own terms. and passion is key to happiness. what anyone else thinks doesnt really matter.
    someone recently said, oh, happiness, there must be at least 26 different definitions if you talk to a lot of people ! 26!! – if i talked to 1000 i would expect that many different definintions. to me thejoy is in talking and exploring, i am not about loooking for one definition…. In my coaching , its about what each person is looking for in their own terms, and then seeeing how to achieve that as fast as possible….
    best regards as ever, nigel

  2. I’ve thought about this a lot, too, Debbie.

    One definition I’ve used often (for a successful day) is:” A successful day: to learn something new; to laugh at least 10 times; to lift someone up; to make progress on a worthy goal; to practice peace and patience; to do something nice for yourself and another; to appreciate and be grateful for all your blessings.”

    But the one I’ve found that covers it best is from Paul J. Meyer: “Success is a progressive realization of worthwhile, predetermined personal goals.”

  3. Hello Debbie

    This months Success Magazine is devoted to how individuals define success. Darren Hardy says it well in his editorial. It is a shift from the materialistic definition of success to creating significance.

    Robert Mano
    Author: Thinking Beyond the Obvious

  4. Loved reading this — I just redefined healing in my book! (It’s due out later this fall.) The dictionaries were so insufficient, lol.

    I’ll take a stab at defining full success as both reaching a result you desired, plus the emotions of satisfaction and happiness you expected… or, of course, reaching something even better.

    Ah, but I see where success gets complicate. Over and over, we often pursue one goal in order to accomplish something completely different. For instance you might sign up to get that certification so you can start your business, which you wanted to do to earn extra money because what you REALLY want is freedom from being a housewife dependent on someone else’s salary.

    Then the question becomes: what is true success — accomplishing the overt goal or the covert goal? The certification (with flying colors), or that freedom?

    In my healing practice with awakening healers, what I often see is someone who ends up getting three certifications… but their business never gets off the ground because they can’t see their value (the foundation of a business) — and this value block is the reason they are not independent in the first place.

    As a healer, I help them unblock what is blinding them to their value, and then they find success and independence more quickly and easily, with or without certifications. They avoid wandering through those long and unhappy paths that fail to ultimately accomplish their inner longings.

    Hmmm, then I might be inspired to add that true success comes as a result of the transformation of healing. 😉

    Great question, Debbie, I can’t wait to read your book!!!


  5. Hey guys, thanks for sharing.

    Nigel – I agree that success and happiness are very personal. I think that’s where so many people (myself included) got off track in the past 5-10 years. We started letting society and other people define our standards for us and we began trying to achieve to those standards. That didn’t turn out so well.

    Michael – love both your definitions. In fact I loved the first one so much I’ve included it in my book! What I love about the second definition is the word “personal.”

    Robert – thanks for letting me know. Love the idea of “creating significance.” I’ll have to check out the latest issue of Success Magazine!

  6. Thanks for sharing Daria. And you are right, it is very easy to get caught up in chasing all the things you think represent success and get lost in the process.

    I actually think we can define success as achieving ALL the little goals we set for ourselves. The overt ones and the covert ones. Why not celebrate making the decision to go into business, achieving the certification, and achieving the freedom… and every little step along the way?

    As I wrote in my post, if you set out to do something and you give it your all and do your best, that is your own personal success. While the outcome may not always look like what you imagined, or what society deems successful, you have accomplished your own personal goals, and that I believe is the key. Especially if YOU feel good doing it, and you are happy with the outcome.

  7. I love this post! It really puts things in perspectve about how I would answer that question. A solid marriage, respectful children and remaining in integrity regarding to business are wonderful ways to define your success and it is so very true about how it’s a personal feeling, your thoughts, etc. I can’t wait to hear when your book launches! Best of luck 😉


  8. I believe success is more about the journey, not so much the destination. For me it is fluid and changes as my goals and skills change. I agree with the above posts AND that it is hard to put onto paper.

  9. Steph – While I am proud of those outcomes, my point was that for me success is more about the fact that I gave all of these endeavors my all and THAT is what I feel good about. I did my best. I never gave up.

    Results are great. But I guess what I learning is that we don’t always get the results we expect, so if we know we’ve done our best moving toward the goal, and we’ve given it our all, then to me that is success. Feeling good about the efforts put forth.

    Laura – yes, the journey and knowing you are doing what you believe you are on this earth to do, and it giving it your all.

  10. Deb~I really appreciate who you are in business and in life. Your blog post reveals your authenticity (no hype, marketing manipulation, etc.) and your realness. I also appreciate your grappling with this question and viewing it as an inquiry…something that perhaps will continue to unfold for a very long time for all of us. I have a feeling that what we define as success today will be different when we visit this conversation in various points of our life. Thank you for being you. XO Rita

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