4 min read

Start Here: Define "Success"

A pencil, pencil sharpener, and blank open notebook
"If we're going to succeed, or fail, we should do so on our own terms, with our own ideas — our own brand." ~ Phil Knight

Humans like "success". You may have noticed. But what is this elusive entity we're all chasing?

Merriam-Webster defines success as "the fact of getting or achieving wealth, respect, or fame", and that's certainly a celebrated depiction in today's society. In fact, many of us adopt this by default without actually examining whether or not it floats our boat. And that's the scary thing: if we don't define success, someone else will.

Here, we're going to speak to the crazy importance of defining our personal vision of success and offer some strategies to help us do so. For the nitty-gritty on how to then wiggle our way towards said success, follow up this read with our complete guide to goal setting.

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The crazy importance

As far as we know, we only get one shot at this whole human existence tango. So doesn't it make sense for us to dance the dance of our truth while we can? Former palliative carer Bronnie Ware interviewed dozens of individuals at the end of their lives and — hauntingly — discovered the number one regret expressed was, "I wish I'd had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me".

Not only does steering by our own definition lead to less regret, but it also makes the journey far more enjoyable. When we operate from alignment, life is freer, lighter, easier. We sleep better, we smile more, even our cells are physically healthier. Goals suddenly become clearer and achievable. Once we have our compass pointing true north, we naturally have a greater chance of hitting the individual pit-stops along the way. If, however, we're blindly following everyone else south, we're really going to struggle to reach those north-facing targets.

And, just statistically, there are a gazillion people on this planet (unfortunately) chasing the wealth/respect/fame definition. But it's unlikely there'll be many — if anyone at all — pursuing the niche definition we craft. That's no small thing. That's stacking some serious odds in our favour.

Defining "success"

Defining our personal definition of success requires setting aside some time and space. Like many genuinely important tasks, this is an easy one to procrastinate doing. To make it appealing, put on yo' fave playlist, grab yo' beverage of choice, and make yo' badass self extra comfy. Every moment we spend climbing the wrong ladder is a moment we could be spending climbing the right one, so let's get our ladder sorted.

  1. Whip out a piece of paper or open a new note on your device.
  2. Figuratively delete your currently held definition for "success". Don't worry, society will be more than happy to remind you of this at any time.
  3. Get quiet. Then, from a place of alignment, internally ask, "What does success mean to me?" Trust you already know the answer ('coz you do).
  4. Brain-dump anything and everything that arises. Paint as vivid a picture as possible in whatever form makes most sense.
  5. Smile as you go. Maybe even groove in yo' seat a little. You're sketching the masterpiece that is your life, after all.


If we find ourselves getting stuck, we can try the following prompts to get the ball rolling:

  • Think big picture. Where are we living? How do we spend our days? Who are we surrounded by?
  • Think trivial details. What time do we wake up? What are we wearing? What foods do we eat?
  • Internally ask, "What does success not mean to me?"
  • Divide life into smaller, less overwhelming chunks. For example career, health, relationships, finances, recreation etc.
  • Reflect on encounters with jealousy.
  • Put judgement on mute. Our truth is our truth. If our personal definition happens to include wealth/respect/fame, amazing. We won't be the first, and we certainly won't be the last.

Et voilà, our personal definition of success has started to take shape!

This definition will likely change or evolve over time. Ours certainly has (we wrote about the first time we ran this exercise back in 2019 here). As a result, it's worth putting a reminder in our calendar to circle back as often as feels helpful. Some folk need to check in every day, others can get by reviewing once a week, month, or quarter. Irrespective of how impressive our aligning powers may be, it's a good habit to get into — at least every three months. Worst-case scenario, we get to spend a few minutes acknowledging how far we've come and what a legend we are.

Tactical practical

As mentioned, we have a big ol' guide to goal setting that can now be put into play for the tactical and practical. Or, we can choose to start by simply observing our current reality. What, if anything, is limiting or preventing our success? Can we remove any of these things? And what, if anything, could increase or encourage our success? Can we add any of these things?

Alternatively, we can call it a day for now, armed with — and empowered by — our very own definition of "success" (which already puts us in the 1%).

Lady dancing at NBA

However you choose to define the s-word, remember: the only definition of success that matters is yours.

Dance this tango on your own terms and you'll be one of few who can look back on their life and say, "Damn, that was one hell of a boogie!"

Thoughts / feedback / challenges? We'd genuinely love to hear.

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