“What is your definition of success?”

A few years ago, I was asked this question and I was briefly stumped.

My first thought was, “Well, let me look it up in the dictionary.” Because isn’t this answer obvious?

At the moment, I came up with a job interview-type answer that had something to do with “the team achieving the mission” or “meeting and exceeding our KPIs.” Very corporate.

But it did get me thinking. What is my definition of success? It certainly isn’t hitting corporate KPIs in their limited view and scope. Zooming out, how do I evaluate if I am successful – not just in my career, but in life?

Different Definitions

There are several different definitions of success depending on the dictionary you choose.  However, the one that speaks to me most is how Oxford Dictionary defines success as “the accomplishment of an aim or purpose.”

That’s short and to the point. And at the same time, it’s also very open-ended.

To create our personalized definition of success, we need to be clear on the aim or purpose we are trying to fulfill. Does that feel like a heavy topic to consider? It did for me. For me, it comes with the pressure to choose something big, broad, and meaningful to the world. Or at least that’s the story I was telling myself.  So here’s where I started.

Success is making enough money to support my family, our goals, and the things we want to do.

But what is enough? My definition of success needed to be more explicit and more specific. Without it, the bar will always be moving. And success will always be something far off in the distance.

So, I began to work through the 7-levels-deep exercise from Dean Graziosi. In this exercise, you answer the question, “What is important to you about becoming successful?” Then, continue to challenge your answer by asking, “Why is it important to you?” This deep exploration is the personal development version of Six Sigma’s 5-whys process for identifying a root cause.


When evaluating success, after digging seven levels deep, you get clarity on your aim or purpose. This process strips off the expectations of society and other people, weeds out the general, uncovers fears and concerns, and gets to the heart of what is essential for you about success.

Where did I end up? I am here on my unique journey and want to live that out. Success is simply being the true me, confidently and with certainty, and riding that energy. That is my aim.

It sounds great! Big picture. Idealistic.

Measuring Success

Yet, my analytical and business brain still has questions. How can this success be measured? In the corporate world, we’re used to seeing metrics like growth in customer base, subscription numbers, profit margin, or cycle times on the manufacturing floor. In your personal life, financial achievement and hours volunteered are measurable.

Measurements are not wrong. You just need to put them through the filter of your view of success.

Can I be in a career that measures cycle times and still be me? It depends on the organization and cultural elements.

Can I have financial achievement and be successful? If the money flows through ways I can confidently bring my true self-energy, then sure!

For any decision I face, I have a filter to run through and ask: “Will this contribute to my success or not?”

Making Choices

In a world where information is thrown at us 24/7, it can be challenging to make choices. Just think about Netflix. There are SO many options. (and I usually watch things I’ve already seen!) Too many choices can be overwhelming. It leads to indecision and feeling like we should be able to do it all. Be everything, be everywhere, be someone else.

It’s easy to end up scattering ourselves into little bits all over the place. Picking up pieces of identity here and there, trying to fit into the ideal of our boss, our mom, or our kid’s teacher.  We get detached from who we are, what is important to us, and what we want to create for ourselves.

Enter your clarified definition of success. 

  • Use it to decide whether an opportunity moves you toward your goals. 
  • Use it to determine if someone’s feedback aligns with the person you want to be and how you want to show up in the world. 
  • Use it to align your time and energy to what is meaningful to you.

You have your personalized definition of success. Ground yourself and your energy here.

It will propel you forward in phenomenal ways.