What Does it Mean to Succeed?

In high school, my classmates voted me “Most Likely to Succeed,” an honor that, seven years later, still provides a confidence boost I am grateful for. A subsequent conversation with a college classmate, however, left me wondering what my high school peers – or anyone, for that matter – meant when they predicted that I would “succeed.”

Said classmate – let’s call her Mary – declared that she would likely forgo having children in order to focus on being “successful.” Her posture did not resonate with me because I want kids someday. Our conversation prompted me to ponder my personal definition of success and, ever since, I have been attentive to how others define this amorphous term.

According to Dictionary.com, success can mean: 1) the favorable or prosperous termination of attempts or endeavors or 2) the attainment of wealth, position, honors, or the like.

You may notice that the definitions above are vague and leave room for interpretation. Consider, then, these scenarios:

  • Would six figure earnings make you successful if you are uninterested in your work?
  • Are you successful if you have a profitable business but no time for yourself?
  • Is a company’s most productive member successful if she is not held in high esteem by her colleagues?

It is important for everyone, but especially for women (who often are forced to make more difficult life choices than men), to have a clear, nuanced, highly personal definition of success. Most of us act based on such a definition, but may not be fully aware of it, which is akin to aiming for the bull’s-eye on a moving target. If you are wondering where to begin to create this definition, here are some ways to get started:

Broaden Your Concept of Success

A useful definition of success is one that comprises all areas of your life, not just your career. Our personal and professional lives do not exist in vacuums; decisions in one realm have implications for the other. Consider these implications when creating your definition.

Measuring Success

Should success be measured in dollars? In accolades? Both? There is no right answer. The “yardsticks” you use to measure success are integral to your definition, however, therefore you need to be conscious of what they are. Make sure they are yours and not someone else’s.

A Journey, Not a Destination

You have probably heard the adage, “success is a journey, not a destination.” With this in mind, make it a point to distinguish between your short-term and long-term definitions of success. You can be successful right now even if you have not yet achieved your ultimate goals. Once you have created an overarching definition of success, break it down into milestones to pinpoint what you need to accomplish to consider yourself successful in the present moment.

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3 thoughts on “What Does it Mean to Succeed?

  1. Hi Nathalie!

    For me success IS the journey, for me it’s take consistent steps and action everyday towards that end goal and as long as progress can be seen and the shorter term goals achieved then that’s good enough for me lol.  

    The idea that success means wealth and material things doesn’t sit very well with me .. sure they’re “nice” but have been an entrepreneur for the last few years for me the lessons I’ve learnt, the people I’ve met and more importantly the experiences have shaped me more than any money.

    Thanks so much for sharing this Nathalie

  2. I believe success is achieved only by taking career risk and by seeing through the highs and lows. I enjoyed the article!

  3. For me, success is doing the job you want to do and balancing it with the life outside of the office that you want to lead. Salary only comes into it if it provides me with enough money to do what I want to do (ie, travel, hobbies, house) – it isn’t a goal in itself. 

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