How Do You Define Success?

By: Megan Jones

What defines success? As I have gotten older, the word success has become a common topic in my life and work experience. In interviews, candidates ask “What does success look like in this role?”. Managers and career counselors inquire, “How can I support your success in this role?”. Moreover, if you google the word success there are a plethora of articles and TED Talks debating the definition and how to acquire success. The definition of success becomes so arbitrary, that you could have an entire dictionary designated to all of its definitions. For myself personally, I feel like the goal is to be successful in all that I do, but it is not clear what being successful looks like. I even struggle to define success or if I can say I am successful. Therefore, as school lets out, and Q2 for the working world is following close behind, it seems like a great opportunity to look at how do you define success.

Defining Success

The Merriam Webster Dictionary defines success as: the degree or measure of succeeding;  favorable or desired outcome.

Then, if you look at the next google search there are 78 synonyms and antonyms of the success.

With something that everyone is looking to achieve, I would hope that there would be a more succinct definition. Additionally, there ought to be a finite way of describing success and achieving it. Moreover, how does one define the degree of succeeding?

In my dive through numerous inspirational speeches and Ted Talks (spoiler alert) defining success isn’t usually done quantitatively. It isn’t defined by how much money you make or the number of awards you have won. In my personal research from being asked this question, many of us say when you are truly happy you are successful.

Are You Successful?

I agree with the idea of defining success as happiness (surprisingly, happiness and success are not synonyms). However, I would further say that the threshold of success is individualistic. Everyone can achieve it, but you have to recognize it.

A favorite quote of mine from the TV sitcom The Office is from Andy Bernard, “I wish there was a way to know you’re in the good old days before you have actually left them”.

In the moment, we may not recognize our successes or how far we’ve come. We may tend to think retroactively and look back to see all the milestones we’ve crossed. We also find ourselves looking back at pictures with friends and family, noticing how true our smile was and how in that moment we were truly happy.

However, if we look at the present moment, we may not feel successful at all. In fact, in my everyday I can’t say that I feel successful regularly. The only time I personally feel success is when I look back to see how far I have come. Although, it makes me feel proud of my success in the moment, the feeling is temporary. In my day-to-day, when I am feeling the stress or burdens of life it inhibits my happiness and my feeling of success. So can I truly say I am successful if in the moments that I am growing I don’t feel happy or successful?

A New Perspective

I think whether you like the dictionary definition or any other definition you have heard, we will all differ on how we define success. Which means we all have the potential to be successful. But I want to change my mindset and, if you think anything like me, then maybe yours. I want to feel success in the moment. I don’t always want to have to look back and notice the defining moments in my life. Instead, I want to feel them as they are happening.

Many of us may have heard that success isn’t a straight line. But that quote makes it sound like success has a finite destination, and I am no longer choosing to believe it does. You can be successful in your journey. You don’t have to wait to be at the top of a peak to be successful—you just have to choose to keep going. Success is choosing not to give up, it is believing in yourself. That when you are low in the valleys you keep persevering. Success isn’t the destination when you see the view. It is having the courage to keep going without knowing what the view will look like.

You are successful and each step, each moment is proving your tenacity to keep being successful. Feel the stress in your life as a daily reminder that life is going to test you and you are strong and can continue to grow stronger.

You are successful, and you will continue to be so. Don’t let the stress of the moment deter you. Don’t let a frivolous incident block your mindset into thinking that you are not currently successful. Keep going and keep feeling proud of how far you have come. And when you look back or when you look at yourself in the mirror every day, ask yourself “Am I living in my definition of success?” then ensure that you can continue to say “Yes” every day.

Remember it can be easy to not feel successful. Don’t compare yourself to others or superficial items. Focus on you and know success is already here and it is your choice to keep going.

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