The Meaning of Success

I once got a letter from a high school student in Australia. He wanted to know my definition of success. It’s a good question, and I thought I’d share my answer with you.

Most people will tell you that they want to be a success. But it’s a rare individual who can tell you what that means. Studies show fewer than ten percent of North Americans consider themselves to be successful. Less than ten percent!

Only three percent say they feel truly successful. It’s interesting to note that ten percent have clearly defined goals and about three percent have written their goals down. I wonder if there’s any correlation.

Why is there such a discrepancy between those who want to succeed and those who feel they’re unsuccessful? First of all, success isn’t easy. Another reason so few people consider themselves successful is that success is so misunderstood and poorly defined, it’s difficult to tell whether we are or aren’t. How would we know?

Paul J. Meyer, president of Success Motivation Institute, says, “Success is the progressive realization of worthwhile, predetermined personal goals.”

Let’s take a close look at this definition because it’s a good one.

Progressive means ongoing-dynamic. It demands action. This lends some weight to the cliché that success is a journey rather than a destination. Funny thing about clichés-are they true because they’re so common or are they so common because they’re true? Meyer believes you must be in the process of achieving.

This puts the emphasis on being in the game and not having already achieved the goal. It also implies that just because you’ve been successful at something doesn’t mean you can just sit back and rest on your laurels.

Predetermined. The guy who receives a windfall fortune hardly is a success under this definition. Perhaps that’s why so many instant millionaires-like lottery winners-lose their fortunes quickly. Jim Rohn says if you win a million dollars, you’d better become a millionaire quickly so you get to keep it.

Well said.

Our goals must be determined in advance. Can you imagine Lee Ioccoca, when asked how he got to the top of Chrysler Corp., saying, “Gosh, I don’t know. I didn’t really seek it out. I just kept showing up for work every day, they kept promoting me, and here I am.”

I don’t think so. It takes a plan.

To be a success, we must be consistent and stay focused on our objectives without becoming obsessed by the outcome. It is a process. It is a journey.

And I think the greatest value comes not from what we attain, but rather by what we become in the process.

Our goals must be personal. They must be our own. So often we attempt to accomplish what others want us to achieve. Our goals are things our parents told us to go after. Our goals become things we should do instead of labors of love. Trying to achieve someone else’s goals causes us to be uninspired and live out of obligation. It leaves us empty and tired.

When we seek out our own objectives-something we feel passionate about-we have an abundance of energy. Our spirit soars and we, as well as those around us, experience more joy. We’re in sync with our lives. We feel successful. And we are.

Goals must also be worthwhile. Worthwhile to whom? Worthwhile to you. You get to decide. It’s your life. If your aim in life is to study and contemplate the great spiritual mysteries of the universe, that’s great. If it’s to be the first woman on Mars, then more power to you. As long as your goals are in keeping with your values and don’t hurt anybody, you’ll achieve success.

Michael Angier, founder of, recently released the New SuccessNet Resource Book – the Top Must-Have Tools, Products, Services and Resources for Running Your Business Effectively

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