Success seems to be something everyone is striving for. But what is it really? For me, the answer is "it depends!" I believe it should be different for each individual depending on their values and what is most important to them. However, more often than not, we are striving for someone else's definition of success, not our own.

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Whose definition of success are you living by?

Key to Success

Success seems to be something everyone is striving for. But what is it really?

For me, the answer is “it depends.”

I believe it should be different for each individual depending on their values and what is most important to them.

However, more often than not, we are striving for someone else’s definition of success, not our own.

Maybe it’s our parents view of success, our friends, or society’s view. More often than not it is a combination of all those things and more besides. In order to be seen as successful we focus on what is widely accepted as conventional and traditional definitions of success and strive for that.

However, here is the problem with that – you are living someone elses idea of a successful life based on their values and what they believe is most important, not your’s. And that can lead to living a life that isn’t fulfilling and meaningful to you. It can mean sacrificing what is most important to you in order to be classed as successful by other people.

The personal cost of doing that is high. Here is a personal example:

I spent 14 years in the corporate world striving to be “successful”. I was paid well, had a nice car, fancy holidays, could buy what I wanted – I was successful! Everyone told me I had done well for myself (I hate that phrase!).

But if I was so damn successful, why was I so damn miserable, unfulfilled and not enjoying life?

It was because I was chasing other peoples’ definition of success. To have all those things other people judged as successful I had to sell my soul, compromise on my values (huge mistake!) and sacrifice how I really wanted life to be. What was most important to me suffered.

In 2001 I decided enough was enough. I left the corporate world to design life and work on my own terms based on my values, my own definition of success and what was most important to me and my husband. Since then my life and work has transformed into something far more meaningful and fulfilling.

So, if you want to achieve real success, here is my suggestion…..STOP!  Before you go any further, just take the time to consider this:

Whose definition of success are you living by?

If it isn’t one you have carved out for yourself based on your values and what is most important to you, you are living someone else’s life. You are risking the life you really want. And that is a hell of a gamble to take with your one and only life.

Create your own definition of success based on your values and the life you really want to live. Build every area of your life around that.

Here’s a way to get started:

  • Imagine you are at your 100th birthday party. What do you want to be able to say about your life, work, family, relationships etc?
  • Next, think about what you want the important people in your life to stand up and say about you e.g. your kids, your spouse/partner, friends, colleagues etc.
  • Get clear on what your highest values are that you most want to build your life around.
  • Take what comes up from all those things and build this into your definition of success for all areas of your life.
  • Write it down and put it somewhere you will see it every day.
  • Start looking for steps you can take to start creating change and to design the life you really want.

Measure yourself only by your definition of success. Once you start this you will never go back because you will be on the path to creating a fulfilling and meaningful life on your terms, not someone else’s.

A word of warning. Beware the “success stealers”. They are everywhere. They want you to live their definition of success. Keep focussed on your own definition of success. The rewards are high.

I would love to hear your experiences and views on this topic. Share them in the comments section below.

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  • Great post Ali! As someone who works with over 10,000 young people every year, showing them how to be success this is a subject view dear to my heart.

    The only way to be truly successful is to, as you say, work by your own definition of success. A lot of the ideas regarding success is never actually something we think about consciously but actually are things that seep in to our subconscious from the world around us. Define your own idea of success and you'll be playing a much more enjoyable game in life.

    My definition of success is simply:- to help people and to be constantly adding value into others lives.

  • Ben, thank you so much for sharing your comments and your definition of success. Love it.

  • Thanks Lenka, glad you liked it. Thanks for dropping by.

  • Thanks Lenka, glad you liked it. Thanks for dropping by.

  • Lenka Majstrikova

    Hi Ali,

    Thank you for great piece of writing. In my line of work I meet with this far too often, and I can also relate to your 'corporate success' very much! Living by success of others – such an easy trap to fall into!

  • Lenka Majstrikova

    Hi Ali,

    Thank you for great piece of writing. In my line of work I meet with this far too often, and I can also relate to your 'corporate success' very much! Living by success of others – such an easy trap to fall into!

  • Thanks Alejandro. I think it is the difference between living by design or living by accident. And the later is a hell of a gamble to take with your life. Thanks for dropping by.

  • Alejandro Reyes

    Wonderful post Ali!
    I think I talked briefly about this on my blog, but you have truly expanded it. Success is a word that’s tossed around almost all the time when in reality it’s something truly personal and created from our past experiences, beliefs and values.
    Without having a definition of success, we are completely unable to work towards the future we really deserve. Just by knowing it we are getting closer, as it will guide us towards our goals. 🙂

  • What an apt thing to read the day I publish my book…for so long the only definition of success I considered was my mothers! Your advice and tips are spot-on!

  • Carol Graham

    Excellent points. I agree with your definition that “it depends” I was driven by desperation when my husband became disabled which totally changes your outlook

  • Congratulations on publishing your book.

  • Carol, you raise a really important point there…..we need to be open and flexible to adapt our definition of success as our circumstances change and evolve.

  • Haralee

    So true. I am so much happier now in my chosen career that I made up in my own business than I ever was as a traditional business executive success. My former work life financial success did however make it possible to start my own business.

  • malcolmwot

    Great advice as always Ali! I did the same and never regretted it!

  • Great to hear that Malcolm. Delighted for you.

  • So pleased for you that your transition has made you much happier. I can totally relate to that – that has been my experience too.

  • And once again, yes! Most people, I think live by other people’s definition of success. I tried that for such a long time, and I failed. Now, I feel I might be on the right track. Sometimes it feels too hard though, too late. Good to read your posts for that reason. Thanks

  • Anita, you are so right, it can feel hard sometimes. The key is to not let that be a factor in not donig waht is right for yourself and your values.

  • Susan Williams

    I loved your steps for getting started!
    In grad school, they talked about having an internal locus of control vs. an external locus of control. Who is our audience? For whom are we performing?
    What’s important to me is to do the good works that God prepared in advance for me to do, and to seek His guidance, as I go. To actually enjoy walking with Him, throughout my life.

  • 1010 Park Place

    I’ve always had a clear vision of who I am and how I want to live my life, and it’s never been traditional. Living a life that’s not your own is the definition of misery.

  • Glad you enjoyed the steps Susan.

  • Hi Brenda, having a clear vision is so important. Wonderful that you have always had one to inform how you lead your life.

  • My definition of success has definitely changed now that I’m over 60. It’s been an interesting ride, for sure, adapting to new goals and criteria.

  • Cathy Chester

    Excellent. I didn’t get a clear vision of what I wanted until right before my 50th birthday. I’m loving what I do (although I’d love to find more paying work!) and the people that I meet. Wonderful post, Ali. I give you a lot of credit for giving up a great corporate job to go after what YOU wanted!

  • Hi Barbara, I think that is a very common thing – that as our life evolves our experiences, life learning and wisdom inform what becomes most important to us. My definition of success has definitely evolved over the years but as I get older it changes less as I am clear on my core values and orientate all areas of life around those.

  • Cathy, delighted you enjoyed the article. Great to hear you are loving what you do.

  • It’s funny Ali – I was addressing a similar idea in my last post – where I was being pushed towards bigger and bigger blogging things – then I realized that is not my idea of success, success for me is about connection, not about money or page views etc. So back to basics for me for a while 🙂

  • Leanne, how wonderful that you had that awareness so that you didn’t end up down a path that wasn’t a fit for you.

  • Such a great question. I think the answer comes from within. Thanks for exploring this important issue.

  • I agree – the answer is within. Makes it even more important to be aware of the influence of external factors on our choices and decisions that might lead us down a path that isn’t a good fit.

  • I liked your revelation – having so much, and needing other things. It starts early; we should also steer kids their own way by asking them why a chosen path is good for them, and where they hope they wind up, and what are the things they love doing? The assumption should always be that it is work in progress, I think.

  • EatTheBurbs✈Chicago

    This!! “I spent 14 years in the corporate world striving to be “successful”. I was paid well, had a nice car, fancy holidays, could buy what I wanted – I was successful! Everyone told me I had done well for myself (I hate that phrase!).

    But if I was so damn successful, why was I so damn miserable, unfulfilled and not enjoying life?” Speaks to my soul. Thank you for this article. Bookmarking for when I need reminders. Well done!!

    -Rachell

  • Susan, I totally agree. Helping the younger generation to find fulfillment and meaning in their life and work for themselves is so important.

  • I am delighted you found it useful.

  • Tamara Grand

    Such a thought-provoking post. I spent 12-years doing post-graduate studies and ended up only working in my chosen field for a few years. I left a full-time career to work part-time and care for my growing family. While I don’t regret my decision, I did, for a long time feel ‘unsuccessful’. It took a look of re-framing and internal searching to release that feeling (mainly because I was hung up on everybody ELSE’S definition of success)

  • It took an accident and a brain injury to make me stop and see that where I was wasn’t where I wanted to be. I didn’t exactly know what that picture was supposed to look at, but I’m coloring it my own way in my own time and I’ve never been happier. Great post as usual Ali.

  • Tamara, great that you were able to to find a reframe that served you better than focussing on other people’s definition of success.

  • Rena, delighted to hear that creating your own picture of life and colouring it in your way is working for you. Go you.