What Does Success Mean? Clarifying the Definition of a Successful Life

Defining Success in Our Lives

What does success mean? It’s a tricky thing and means something different to everyone. For some, it’s about achieving a happy family life or succeeding at work. For others, it’s as simple as feeling content.

Our upbringing, beliefs, and world shape how we define success. It’s a personal journey, different for each of us. We must not lose sight of what success truly means to us, whether it’s in the joy of big achievements, the happiness found in spending time with loved ones, or the satisfaction of learning new skills.

Not everyone shares the same definition of success, and that’s the beauty of it. It’s about setting goals, focusing on what matters, and ultimately realizing our unique potential.

In this piece, we delve into the true essence of success. We’ll explore success stories, gain expert insights, and review the latest research findings.

We aim to challenge traditional perspectives and initiate a dialogue about the authentic meaning of success for individuals.

Short Summary

Back view of successful manager looking at business building of modern city.
Image by ArthurHidden on Freepik

Personal Narratives: What Does Success Mean to You?

Success, like us, is wonderfully varied, each story its own. Think of the student taking exams, the athlete breaking records, or a parent doing their best. What does success mean? It’s the joy in a stable paycheck, the thrill of growing in your career, or the pride in a well-done painting.

It’s about lending a hand in your neighborhood, getting a nod for your hard work, earning trust, and keeping friends. Whether you’re picking up a brush or lacing up hiking boots, pursuing success or achieving a desired outcome, remember: success is more than a single win – it’s a journey with many paths, each as unique as you are, defined not by money or social status, but by feeling fulfilled and maintaining work-life balance.

When we talk about success, everyone has their own definition of what it means. It’s not just about being rich, famous, or achieving financial stability. It’s about living a life that feels right for you, following your own dreams instead of just doing what everyone else expects. Success can be about sticking to your moral values, setting and accomplishing goals, or doing the hard work daily. For some, feeling successful might mean having a home to return to or the freedom to turn down things like a new car or job that don’t feel right.

Finding joy in relationships, family, and friends is all about what makes you feel fulfilled and happy. This view of success changes as we grow, influenced by our genes, our culture, and the pressures we’ve faced since we were kids. It’s a personal story that keeps evolving, giving more clarity to our sense of happiness and what achievements mean.

Evolving Perceptions: What Is Being Successful in Life?

Harvard Business School’s new research looks at what success means, probing into the essence of a successful life.

They’re digging into how well-thought-out plans, effective action, and a strong workplace culture can lead to financial success and a fulfilling life. A key finding? Learning from mistakes, overcoming fear, and daring to take risks is crucial for personal and professional success.

This research offers more clarity and a different perspective, suggesting there’s more to success than just hitting targets and making profits.

It underscores that success means moving beyond someone else’s definition, focusing instead on what individuals feel successful in achieving, be it in their career path, financial stability, or work-life balance.

Back in the day, 'success' meant how things turned out, good or bad. Now, it's all about hitting goals, such as achieving financial success or finding work-life balance, and getting somewhere.

What we define as success, whether it's leading a successful life or just feeling successful, is hugely shaped by our culture, especially in places like the U.S. where the individual achievements of successful people, like celebrities, are glorified.

But, as times change and we grow, our view of success changes too. We start to seek more clarity, focusing on fulfilling life aspects like positive impact, overcoming fear, and not losing sight of what's essential.

And let's not forget how social media throws in its two cents, showing us only the shiny parts of life, making us rethink what success means and what it takes to be a successful person. It prompts us to stop chasing someone else's dream and start pursuing our own desired outcomes.

man standing on rocky cliff facing body of water
Photo by Joshua Earle on Unsplash

Interactive Reflection: What Success Means to You

Ready to figure out what success really looks like for you? Let’s dive in with this easy-to-follow worksheet. It’s all about getting to the heart of what makes you tick when it comes to success.

With some thoughtful questions to ponder, you’ll get a clearer picture of your goals and dreams. So, grab a pen, and let’s start exploring your own version of success!

Define Success - a Personal Worksheet

1: Reflecting on Success

2: Analyzing Success Quotes

3: Envisioning Your Success

4: Overcoming Obstacles

5: Personal Success Plan


The Path to Achieve Success: Beyond Societal Norms

Society sets sky-high success standards, making us feel like we’re not achieving a successful life or defining success like stars such as Beyoncé or business icons like Steve Jobs.

This kind of thinking, amplified by media and societal views on wealth and fame, overlooks our definition of success and personal achievements. It can hurt how we feel about ourselves, tricking us into believing we’re failing when we’re actually accomplishing a lot and living a life true to our definition of success.

Rather than running after what the world views as success, like fame and big bucks, why not measure it by what truly matters to you? Think about what’s in your heart, the stuff that builds your character and makes you grow.

You know, the limelight fades, but the achievements you make for personal success? That sticks around. True success? It’s finding joy in your own journey, feeling fulfilled, and not just ticking boxes based on someone else’s definition of a successful life.

Balancing Short-term Achievements With Long-term Ambitions

It’s key to balance what we want now with our big dreams for later in life and work. Most of us, about 70%, find this tough, affecting how happy and productive we are. Short-term plans, lasting up to a year, help us move step by step towards our bigger goals. These need us to be sharp and quick in dealing with challenges.

Long-term plans lay the groundwork for a fulfilling and successful life, while short-term goals build the path, plank by plank, toward our own definition of success.

It turns out that loving what you do does help you define success and lead a successful life. Researchers at Chicago Booth looked at 80 people hitting the gym. Those who enjoyed their workout hung around longer on the cardio machines.

So, liking the process seems to boost your chances of sticking with it and achieving success, whether in personal or professional success. It’s tricky, like walking a tightrope, but you can do it.

The key? Pick what matters most, be ready to switch things up, cheer for even the small victories, and learn from any bumps in the road. Remember, how you get there is just as important as where you’re going.

Backpacker standing on tree trunk
Image by freepik on Freepik

Actionable Steps Towards Your Definition of Success

Success isn’t one-size-fits-all; it changes as we do. It’s not just ticking off goals. It’s really about figuring out what success looks like for you. It’s like switching on a light when you get clear about that. You see things differently.

Your goals get sharper and more focused. And guess what? That pumps up your drive and gets you to achieve more. It’s all about tuning into your version of success and letting that guide you.

To succeed, make sure your goals match what you care about. If you treasure family time, don’t pick a work goal that keeps you away from them. This way, you won’t feel drained or resentful. Also, go for smaller steps that fit your values, not just giant leaps.

This keeps you energized and might even speed things up. And hey, don’t be too hard on yourself. Regularly check your progress, celebrate your wins, learn from any slip-ups, and tweak your plan. This keeps you on track and feeling good about your success journey.

The Emotional Journey of Success: Mental And Emotional Wellbeing

Success isn’t just about what you can tick off on a list. It’s really tied up in how we feel on the inside, you know? Feelings like being thankful, caring, and taking real pride in what we do play a big part. When we’re thankful, we’re more patient — studies have shown this.

Caring, especially about who we’ll be, helps us make smarter choices for the future. And having the right kind of pride — the kind about valuing our achievements, not bragging — pushes us to work harder but stay humble. All these feelings mix, helping us find success inside and out.

Success is more than just emotions; it’s closely tied to having an open mind and a kind heart. An open mind sparks growth and fresh ideas, and a caring heart strengthens our bonds with others. These qualities do more than just lead us to success; they shape who we are and our mark on the world. In the end, true success is about growing these parts of ourselves.

Adapting to Change: Incorporating Feedback And Learning

In today’s dynamic world, where nothing stays the same, understanding what success means and being able to adapt and learn is essential. EY Americas puts it well: businesses, like individuals defining success for themselves, must be ready to evolve with changing circumstances.

It reflects what Darwin said about survival: those who grasp their surroundings and can swiftly adapt are the ones who achieve success. Whether personal success, professional success, or a company’s growth, adapting to this ever-shifting world makes a huge difference in leading a successful life and having a positive impact.

Thus, you must keep tweaking your plans and ways of doing things based on what you learn. It’s a bit like learning to swim in changing tides. Take Ford, for example. They quickly shifted gears to make safety gear when the pandemic hit.

And look at Sysco – they quickly changed their whole distribution system to help with food supply. It’s a bit like survival of the fittest out there. Companies have to be smart, ditch old rule books, and jump on new opportunities with both feet.

A young woman with a bouquet of sunflowers under an umbrella in rainy weather
Image by pvproductions on Freepik


We should remember that success is personal and always changing. It’s about defining success in our own terms, not just living someone else’s dream. It’s finding a balance between now and our future dreams and keeping our minds and hearts in a good place, feeling fulfilled.

It’s important to follow our own path on this path, as it forms our life and helps us grow. Ultimately, real success is about feeling good on the inside, not just about what we show on the outside.

Frequently Asked Questions: Understanding Success in Depth

How Does Personal Growth Contribute to Defining ‘what Is Success to You’?

Personal growth molds how we view success. It’s about constantly learning, aiming for big goals, and daring to step beyond what’s comfortable. By being self-aware and building good habits, we grow stronger in our relationships and abilities, finding deep meaning and satisfaction in life.

Can ‘what Is to Be Successful’ Change Over a Lifetime?

Definitely! Over time, as we live, learn, and engage in a few battles, what we think of as success changes. It’s shaped by our own stories, dreams, and what’s important to us, much like how successful people redefine and pursue success. It’s not set in stone; it grows with us, making our view of success unique and deeply personal.

What Are Some Common Misconceptions About ‘what Does Successful Mean’?

Some people wrongly believe that success is the same for everyone, that only specific types of people with skills can achieve it, and that it’s all about luck, setting goals, and quick wins. In truth, success varies, involving long-term focus and different abilities.