Do You Know What "Success" Means for You?

By Ali Luke

June 18, 2012   •   Fact checked by Dumb Little Man

It’s a pretty good bet that you want to succeed in life – whether that’s at work, in your relationships, with your hobbies, or in any other domain.

But how will you know when you get there?

Have you thought about what success really means to you?

It might seem like a silly question. Perhaps you think success is obvious … it means making a good salary, being healthy, and having a happy family life.

But what exactly is a “good salary”? Depending on where you live in the world, and depending on what sort of lifestyle you want, a “good salary” could mean almost anything. What I consider to be “good” might seem like peanuts – or wild extravagance – to you.

Unless you’re clear on exactly what a “good salary” means to you, it’s going to be hard for you to be satisfied. And the same goes for other areas, like your health and your family life. Sure, you can’t put a figure on those – but you can write down a detailed description of what success will look like in those areas.

Don’t Just Follow the Crowd
Society and the media tend to portray a shallow, one-dimensional idea of success. It looks something like this: a fast car, a big house, expensive vacations, fancy food and pricy wine, a beautiful partner, flawless skin…

Is that really what your own version of success looks like? Personally, I’ve got no interest in fast cars, and one of my favorite vacation activities is to go walking in the countryside with my husband – hardly expensive. You might feel the same: perhaps you’d much rather be healthy and strong than have flawless skin, or you’re really a beer-and-chips kinda guy/gal, and you don’t even like pricy wine.

Don’t let peer pressure or the media warp your vision of success. Decide what you want from life, and go after that. Stay true to your values and your dreams.

Define Success Step by Step
Thinking about success in the context of your whole life can be pretty overwhelming. Instead, you might want to break it down a bit.

  • What would a successful year look like? (What projects do you want to complete? What experiences do you want to have?)
  • How will you know when you’ve succeeded with a specific project? What’s your goal? Make it measureable, if possible.
  • Where in your life have you already been successful, by your own standards? How can you build on that success, little by little?

Even if you’ve already set yourself some goals, you might want to take another look at them, and come up with a definition of success. Let’s say you’ve set a goal of “write a book” in the next two years. That could mean:

  • Write the first draft of a book
  • Complete a book to publishable standard
  • Get the book published
  • Self-publish the book

At what stage can you say you’ve successfully completed your goal? There’s no right answer here: you need to decide for yourself.

Keep a Success Journal
Perhaps, to you, success isn’t about making lots of money or living in a big house. It might simply be about enjoying life more.

That’s obviously a tough thing to measure. What you can do, though, is keep a record of how you’re feeling at different times. For instance, you might write in a journal once or twice a week and note how happy you are, paying particular attention to anything you’ve done that’s helped.

When you regularly reflect on how you’re getting on, you’ll see your life from a broader perspective. This helps you make changes – if you need to – or encourages you to stick with what’s going well. And as time goes by, you can flick back in your journal to see how far you’ve come.

So, what might success look like in your life, or in a particular project that you’ve got on the go? Take a few minutes to think about that today – and share your thoughts with us in the comments.

Written on 6/18/2012 by Ali Luke. Ali is a writer of fiction and non-fiction and a writing coach. She blogs about writing on her site,, and has a free ebook “How to Find Time For Your Writing” available when you join her writing newsletter here. Photo Credit: grinapple
Ali Luke

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