Figure out how you define success so you can more easily get there.
Do you sometimes feel like society's definition of success leaves something to be desired? Have you experienced "success" but it hasn't made you happy? Or, are you just a bit unsure about what success means to you? Then let’s explore your definition of success.
What Is Success?
Merriam-Webster defines success as a "favorable or desired outcome". But when researchers ask men and women what their definitions of success are, they get a whole range of answers, and those answers change over time.
Overall, women define success more in terms of life balance and relationships whereas men focus more on material success (Dyke & Murphy, 2006). But variations in definition can also depend on age, personality, and prior experience.
Here are some examples of how others define success:
"Achievement of goals that help others succeed."
"A successful person is one who does his work properly."
"Success is the achievement of a desired goal."
What Does Success Mean To You?
So what does success mean to you? Ask yourself the following questions to start getting at your answer:
What makes you the happiest?
What satisfies your core needs (like a sense of autonomy, relatedness, and competence)?
What do you value?
What types of accomplishments feel the most worthwhile to you?
Does your idea of success have multiple parts?
What are the things you’ve done in the past that made you feel a sense of success that felt good to you?
Next, consider these different areas of your life. Ask yourself, what would need to happen for you to feel successful in each of the following ways? Remember, there are no wrong answers. You may already feel successful in the areas or feel content with these areas as they are.
Emotional success (i.e., feeling good)
Social success (i.e., feeling connected)
Occupational success (i.e., feeling fulfilled by your work)
Financial success (i.e., being able to afford the things you need)
Community success (i.e., thriving among your friends, family, and the larger community)
Keep Exploring What Success Means To You
To keep exploring what success means to you, try out the following exercises:
Sometimes we get kind of stuck in our heads—I know I do!—and we have a hard time listening to our inner voice. Free-flow writing about success may help clear away the surface-level thoughts and get access to what really matters to us.
Take a moment to think through your dealbreakers—the things that you need in life to feel successful. Now, be careful, because we think of success, we often focus on the things we want and not the things we need. For example, we might want a big house and a nice car but we don’t need them and can feel successful and happy without them.
So, see if you can identify your specific criteria for success. Here are some examples that might be helpful:
I need time to spend with my friends and family.
I need to feel respected in my work.
I need a home to call my own.
I need to do something that makes a positive impact.
Success means different things to each of us. That’s why taking some time to think about what success means to you can be helpful. That way, you can set goals that actually help you get where you want to go and make you happy.
Dyke, L. S., & Murphy, S. A. (2006). How we define success: A qualitative study of what matters most to women and men. Sex roles, 55(5-6), 357-371.