How do you define success (&how to let go of society’s version)


Question: how do YOU define success?

Success is a word that is often thrown around and associated with external accomplishments, such as wealth, fame, or status. But have you ever stopped to think about what success means to you personally?

Is it having a high-paying job? Achieving a certain level of fame or notoriety? Or is it simply living a life that makes you happy? 

In this article, I’ll dive into the topic of success, explore different definitions and perspectives, and help you formulate your own definition of success.

Whether you’re feeling stuck in your current path or simply curious about what success means to others, this article is for you. 


What is the official definition of success?

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines success as a favorable or desired outcome.

This is quite broad. It could be related to personal or professional goals or factors such as recognition, happiness, or fulfillment.

Dealer’s choice, really.

Unfortunately, society has twisted the definition to be far more narrow. More akin to external factors such as wealth, power, prestige, and professional achievements.

But this simply doesn’t resonate with everyone. 

And when we try to achieve a definition we don’t believe in, we fail. Because when we don’t believe in what we’re working towards, we don’t believe in our ability to attain the goal. We don’t believe in ourselves.

Which is why I want you to consider other definitions of success and, ultimately, the one that most aligns with your authentic, genuine needs, desires, and values. 

Varieties of success

To hammer home the fact that success is not one-size-fits-all, look at the success theories frequently discussed and referenced in academic and personal development literature.

Take note of what resonates with you; you’ll want it later. 

Achievement theory 

The attainment of specific goals, whether they be personal or professional. 

This theory emphasizes the importance of setting specific, measurable, and achievable goals and working hard to achieve them, as often measured by external factors such as wealth, status, or recognition. 

Under achievement theory, success looks like earning a high GPA, graduating with honors, earning a high salary, or achieving a certain level of seniority within an organization.

Self-actualization theory

The process of becoming the best version of oneself. 

This theory emphasizes personal growth, self-discovery, and pursuing passions and interests. Success is defined by internal factors, such as self-fulfillment and personal satisfaction, rather than external factors, such as wealth or status. 

Under the self-actualization theory, success is often achieved through learning new skills, pursuing creative interests, or engaging in activities that promote personal growth and development.

Social comparison theory 

The ability to achieve more than others or a certain level of status or recognition in society. 


This theory emphasizes the importance of external validation and recognition. It suggests that people often define success by comparing themselves to others. 

Under the social comparison theory, success is achieved by outperforming others or attaining a certain level of status or recognition that society values.

Process theory

The process of setting goals and working towards them, regardless of whether or not they are achieved. 

This theory emphasizes the importance of personal growth and self-improvement rather than external factors such as wealth or status. 

Under the process theory, success is achieved by engaging in activities that promote personal growth and development, such as learning new skills, taking on new challenges, and overcoming obstacles.

Happiness theory 

Achieving a state of happiness, contentment, and well-being. 

This theory emphasizes the importance of finding meaning and purpose in one’s life and pursuing activities that bring joy and fulfillment

Under the happiness theory, success is achieved by engaging in activities that promote well-being and happiness, such as spending time with loved ones, pursuing hobbies and interests, and engaging in activities that promote mental and physical health.

4 steps to creating your own definition of success

Creating your definition of success is a deeply personal and introspective process that requires reflection and self-discovery. It involves identifying what matters most and defining success on your own terms. 

Here are 4 ways to create your own definition of success.

1. Journal it out

Journaling is a powerful tool for self-reflection and self-expression. 

Take some time to reflect on what success means to you by answering prompts like:


Write down your thoughts and feelings without judgment or censorship.

2. Define your values & core needs

Values are the principles and beliefs that guide our actions and decisions, the things we hold dear, and that give our lives meaning. Core needs are the fundamental requirements to feel fulfilled and content. 

Once you clearly understand your values and core needs, you can use them as a guide for defining success in your own life. 

For example, suppose one of your core needs is financial stability. Success for you might mean achieving a certain income level or financial security. 

But, if one of your values is creativity, success might mean being able to pursue your artistic passions and express yourself in meaningful ways.

3. Reflect on previous experiences of felt success

Taking a trip down memory lane allows you to revisit moments when you felt accomplished, proud, and fulfilled. These experiences can serve as a guide for defining success in the present and future.

To get started with this exercise, reflect on the times when you felt most successful. It could be when you graduated from college, received a promotion at work, or completed a challenging project. It could also be a personal accomplishment, like running a marathon or learning a new skill.

Once you have identified these experiences, look closely at what they have in common. What values or needs were being fulfilled during those moments? Maybe you felt a sense of autonomy, creativity, or accomplishment. Perhaps you were helping others or making a positive impact on the world. 

By identifying the common themes and values from these experiences, you can start to define success in a way that aligns with your core beliefs and desires.

4. Get inspired

Seek inspiration from others who have defined success on their own terms. 

Read books, watch TED talks, or listen to podcasts featuring people who have pursued their passions and found fulfillment in unconventional ways. Use their stories as motivation to create your own definition of success.


Here’s some inspiration to get you started…

“Success is achieving what you want on your own terms while adhering to the values that matter to you.”

Isabel Allende

“Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.”

Winston Churchill

“Success is when you are genuinely happy with your life and the people around you, when you are able to do what you love and you are at peace with yourself.”

Oprah Winfrey

“Success is not about money, it’s about living a life you are proud of.”

Suze Orman

“Success is not measured by what you accomplish, but by the opposition you have encountered, and the courage with which you have maintained the struggle against overwhelming odds.”

Orison Swett Marden

“Success is liking yourself, liking what you do, and how you do it.”

Brené Brown

“Success is liking yourself, liking what you do, and liking how you do it.”

Maya Angelou

“Success is not the key to happiness. Happiness is the key to success. If you love what you are doing, you will be successful.”

Albert Schweitzer

Living up to your personal definition of success

Living up to your own definition of success is an ongoing process that requires patience, dedication, and hard work. 

But by setting clear goals, prioritizing your values and core needs, staying focused and motivated, cultivating a growth mindset, staying true to yourself, and practicing self-care, you can steadily progress towards achieving your goals and living a fulfilling life.

Here’s how:

  1. Set clear and specific goals: Once you’ve defined your version of success, it’s important to set specific goals that align with your definition. Break your goals into smaller, achievable steps, and create a plan to work towards them.
  2. Prioritize your values and core needs: Your definition of success should be based on your values and core needs. Make sure that the goals you set align with these values, and prioritize the activities and tasks that are most important to you.
  3. Stay focused and motivated: It’s easy to get distracted or discouraged when working towards your goals. Find ways to stay focused and motivated, such as tracking your progress, celebrating small successes, and reminding yourself why you started in the first place.
  4. Cultivate a growth mindset: Embrace a growth mindset by viewing challenges as opportunities for growth and learning. See setbacks as temporary and use them to reflect on what went wrong and how you can improve moving forward.
  5. Stay true to yourself: Remember that your definition of success is unique. Don’t compare yourself to others or feel pressure to conform to societal norms. Stay true to yourself and your values, and don’t be afraid to make changes or adjust your goals as needed.
  6. Practice self-care: Taking care of yourself is essential to achieving your goals and achieving your definition of success. Make sure to prioritize self-care activities such as getting enough sleep, exercising, eating well, and taking breaks when needed.

How do you define success for you?

It’s important to remember that success is subjective, and what it means to one person may differ from what it means to another. 

It’s okay to define success on your own terms and work towards achieving the things that matter most to you, whether personal growth, creative fulfillment or something else entirely.

Ultimately, it’s up to you to decide what success means to you and how you want to pursue it. Don’t be afraid to challenge societal expectations and define your own path to success.

P.S. Struggling to define your version of success, financially and holistically? Apply for Wealth On Purpose, where I’ll teach you how to use mindset and financial literacy to cultivate your dream life.

One response to “How do you define success (&how to let go of society’s version)”

Share your thoughts!

Create a website or blog at

%d bloggers like this: