Success is often talked about as something we all strive to achieve, but what does it actually mean and what is success according to you? At The Unknown, our vision is ‘to help inspire men around the world to live a more successful life.’ With this in mind, it seems apt to explore the concept of success and how we define it.
Let’s start with dictionary definitions. They tend to be split into two main definitions:
- The accomplishment of one’s goals
- The attainment of wealth, position, honours or the like.
Both seem viable ways to generally define success, but the fact is that as with many things in life the definition that is most appropriate will depend on context, circumstance and subjective opinion.
Can you be deemed successful if you are not wealthy or powerful? I would argue that in many cases that can be a resounding yes. If you were born into poverty for example and fought throughout your life against all odds to be able to live with stability and integrity then I think there would be very few people that would question the success of your achievements.
On the other hand, if you achieved great wealth but lost most of your fortune through poor decisions and judgment, would you still be considered successful if you were left with $1m in the bank? You are still wealthier than the vast majority of the population so does that meant you are still successful? Would you be deemed unsuccessful due to the loss? Does money even truly matter in the definition of success?
I’ll leave some of these questions as rhetorical, not due to the reluctance of having an opinion (I’ll give my personal view on success later), but more down to the fact these questions are primarily meant to get you thinking about what success means according to you.
Many people I asked about success when writing this article mentioned words like happiness, security, liberty, family, health, love and marriage. As noble as these sound, the human psyche seems too complex to not consider some more polarizing words (that were also regularly mentioned) such as wealth, status, fame, power and sexual satisfaction.
So what is the answer for success when it comes to men? Is there a killer definition or a list that is likely to gain the agreement of the great majority? Highly unlikely, but I will nevertheless share my personal opinion. An opinion that I have evolved throughout my life and ultimately played a part in the inspiration to start The Unknown.
Just before I share, I wanted to give a little additional context and background. I was once advised in a work situation that employees are able to add the most value when their short-term objectives are aligned with their long-term aspirations. This really stuck with me. It’s a concept that I believed in beforehand, but I had never heard it explained so concisely in one sentence.
Part of the beauty of measuring your own progress against ‘aspirations’ is that it allows for personal subjectivity and flexibility for change. Our aspirations will differ significantly from one another and may change over time so an overly specific and stationary definition for something like success will never work. I included this concept into my previous beliefs and research on the topics of success, happiness and self-esteem.
And so as promised, here is the way that I have come to personally define success:
“The fulfillment of one’s genuine aspirations, achieved in a way that aligns with our internal values and beliefs”.
I’m going to elaborate a little on this for clarity. I believe that:
- Real success is validated internal. For people that genuinely judge themselves against external measures, then their aspirations will be an external target to meet their internal needs
- Success is a continuous journey. Once we achieve success, our internal drive is likely to expand our aspirations and push us to achieve more. This helps us continuously feel that we have meaning and goals to strive towards.
- For true success, our aspirations need to have been genuine. Selling yourself short will not result in the same level of fulfillment. Separate short-term achievement from the feeling of true internal success.
- Our internal values and beliefs are key. If we have betrayed our inner beliefs and values on the way to ‘success’, then it may feel superficial and short-lived, and we are likely to still crave the internal satisfaction from achieving our aspirations legitimately.
- Real success will mean that any negative opinions of others will have little impact on your contentment or fulfillment (not everyone will be happy to see you successful). This is because you will be truly happy with yourself; self-validation is crucial.
So how does this measure up against your beliefs of success? This is what my experience has led me to believe at this stage of my life, and it is what I currently measure myself and my progress against.
If it’s a useful guide to help you understand what would make you feel successful and fulfilled then I’m thrilled. I hope it at least gets you thinking about what success is according to you and a set of measures on which to sense check whether you are on track to be the person you wanted to be.
What is success according to highly successful people?
Now that I have shared my opinions on how to define success, lets round off this article by considering the definition of success according to some highly successful people you may have heard of:
"Success is going from failure to failure without losing enthusiasm" - Winston Churchill
"I measure success by how many people love me.” - Warren Buffet
“If you carefully consider what you want to be said of you in the funeral experience you will find your definition of success.” - Stephen Covey
"True success should be measured by how happy you are.” - Richard Branson
"It’s about the difference you make in people’s lives.” - Barack Obama
"Peace of mind attained only through self-satisfaction in knowing you made the effort to do the best of which you're capable.” - John Wooden
“Success is 1% inspiration, 99% perspiration.” - Thomas Edison
I hope this article has helped you to understand or confirm what success is to you and I would love to hear opinions and feedback on this topic so feel free to share in the comments section below.
Please note that comments are mediated to prevent obscenity and inappropriate content, but challenging our viewpoints is welcome and comments will always be published if relevant and written in an appropriate manner.