The Changing Definition of Success—and 5 Questions to Determine If You’ve Achieved It
How does one define success? There are many ways to do so in today’s world, but that wasn’t always the case. For a long time, success was a destination reached via a linear path. There were traditional measures of success, including wealth, power, and status. Now, though, those attributes don’t carry the same weight for everyone. Instead, many people seek a more personalized and holistic definition of success, one that represents their values, passions, and overall wellbeing.
How do you know if you’ve achieved success? Here are five questions to consider that will help you determine the level of success in your life—outside of those traditional measurements.
1. What Are Your Values?
Given that success is a personal goal, the first thing you need to do is determine what truly matters to you. What are your values in life? Do you aspire to achieve positive personal growth? Are you striving to make a positive impact on your friends, family, community, or the world? Is a strong work-life balance your definition of success? Invest some time to reflect on what drives you and then prioritize your values to align with success.
When you understand your personal values, you are better able to identify the important aspects of your life. Values are, at their core, guiding principles you hold dear that help you determine your direction. What will you say yes to? And what feels as if it lacks alignment for you? Values illustrate your fundamental beliefs, and by identifying and embracing them, you are better able to define success on a deeper, more personal level. Write down your values and put them in a place where you’ll regularly see them as a reminder of who you are.
With a knowledge of your core values, the next step is to integrate them into your life—or looking at it another way, bring your life into alignment with your values. Seek opportunities to do what matters to you, whether that is to continue self-development, spend time with loved ones, or give back to your community. When you align your life to your values, you will create a sense of purpose and fulfillment that extends beyond traditional external markers of success.
Consider this: Success is not about blindly chasing someone else’s idea of what it should be. It’s about knowing your own values and using them as your compass in life. When you let your values guide your decisions, you’ll find that achieving your goals becomes more meaningful and satisfying.
2. What Brings You Joy?
Happiness in and of itself can be a definition of success. Your joy in life—or the pursuit of it—is what makes the journey worthwhile. What makes you light up inside? In Tiny Habits, author BJ Fogg calls this “shine.” It’s the thing that makes you smile from head to toe.
If you’re challenged with identifying what creates shine for you, think about the activities that make you lose track of time. These could be hobbies or interests that you look forward to enjoying, a cause about which you’re passionate, or simply surrounding yourself with certain people. It’s in these moments of joy that we are able to express ourselves honestly and authentically.
Happiness is ethereal, but for most of us, we can name several things that make us happy. By incorporating these aspects into your life and career, you will create an overall sense of satisfaction and wellbeing. And that sounds exactly like the definition of success.
In a society that often values material possessions and external achievements, it’s essential to remember that true success comes from within. When you find joy in the simple things, you cultivate a contentment that cannot be found in external accolades.
3. How Do You Define Progress?
You’ve probably heard the oft-quoted phrase, “It’s not the destination; it’s the journey.” Striving to get to a set goal may make you feel that you will have reached success when you get there, but what about now? Every action you take to move you toward your goal is a reason to celebrate. Be grateful for all you’ve achieved to this point and recognize that, for most of us, success is not always a fixed point on a line; it is the entire line that stretches in many directions.
If you want to know if you’ve achieved success, you may need to redefine your perception of progress. Embrace the idea that success is not solely measured by the final outcome but also by the progress you make along the way. Each step you take, every lesson you learn, and each challenge you overcome contributes to your growth and development.
Take the time to acknowledge and celebrate your achievements, no matter how trivial or small they may seem. Doing this enables you to cultivate a positive mindset and an attitude of gratitude while building momentum to keep moving toward your goals. Remember: Success is not a one-time event. Instead, it is a series of meaningful steps that lead you closer to your vision of a fulfilling life.
Think about progress as a process, not a single event. When you see success as a continuous journey, you free yourself from the pressure of meeting arbitrary milestones. By celebrating each milestone along the way, you maintain motivation and enjoy the journey, regardless of the final destination.
4. Are You Living Authentically?
There’s a disconnect at our core when we are not being true to ourselves and living in alignment with our values and beliefs. Take a moment to assess if the way you have constructed your life reflects who you genuinely are. Look at all aspects of your life: career, relationships, health and wellness, mindset, and spirituality. When your life is authentic, you can surely say you are living a life of success.
For some of us, living authentically is easier said than done. It means being true to your core values, honoring your passions, and honing your strengths. It requires courage, especially if you were raised in a way that runs contrary to your current definition of success. Even the people and activities that represent your life now may be out of alignment with your definition of success.
Determining if you are being authentic requires a deep analysis of the choices you are making. It may mean a shift in what your north star is, moving it from an external target to internal validation. If you find yourself to be out of alignment, you may choose to set boundaries for yourself, reevaluate your priorities, or make bold changes to get back on track. But by living authentically, you create a life that is uniquely yours and a true reflection of who you are and what you believe.
Authenticity is about being genuine and honest with yourself. It’s about embracing your true self and not conforming to societal expectations or external pressures. When you live authentically, you find a sense of inner peace and confidence that comes from knowing that you are living life on your terms.
5. What Impact Are You Making?
The definition of success relies heavily on your view of yourself in the world and your path of growth, but that’s not the only barometer of success. It may be about the positive influence you have on those around you, whether your family, friends, colleagues, or the community. Your ability to contribute to the well-being of others can be a powerful measure of success.
What impact are you making in your sphere of influence? Think about the ways you contribute to the people and world around you. Are you actively giving back through acts of kindness, empathy, and support? Are you using your skills and talents to empower others and create lasting positivity?
When reviewing your influence on others, remember that you don’t have to donate millions of dollars or volunteer 40 hours a week to a cause. Small acts can make huge waves. A shoulder to support someone, a phone call or text to check in, a hug … these are all impactful to the person who is receiving the kindness. They will see you as a successful, caring person who makes a difference in the world.
The impact you make on others can leave a lasting legacy. Whether it’s being a supportive friend, a caring mentor, or a helpful colleague, your actions can positively influence the lives of those around you. By contributing to the well-being of others, you create a ripple effect of positivity that extends far beyond your immediate circle.
What Is Your Definition of Success?
No longer do we have to confine our definition of success to what the dictionary offers us. A poor person can be more successful than the richest person, just as someone who is healthy and happy sees herself as successful when compared to the lonely person battling illnesses. Your definition of success may be just as unique as you are, but when you define your values, live your life in alignment with them, and lift up those around you, you can surely say that you’ve made it. You are successful.
Resume and Career Services offers career support through writing resumes, cover letters, and LinkedIn profiles as well as coaching to help you see yourself as a successful contribution to your industry and community. Learn more about our services here.