5 Ways to Define Success

A few weeks ago, we discussed how the road to success difficult, but rewarding. Let’s backtrack a little. What is success? Everyone wants it. Few know how to obtain it. If you’re reading this, you’re obviously interested in obtaining it—in being one of those few. So, let’s start off with the definition of success.

Merriam Webster defines it as:

 Merriam Webster Definition of Success

(Interesting fact: This definition it among the top 1% of look ups on the Merriam Webster website.)

Pretty vague. As a guy mentioned in my debate group, success could mean punching someone in the face. Let’s look to other sources, to those who we consider successful.


“To live the lives we truly want and deserve, and not just the lives we settle for, we need a Third Metric, a third measure of success that goes beyond the two metrics of money and power, and consists of four pillars: well-being, wisdom, wonder, and giving.”

Arianna Huffington, founder of the Huffington Post


Very nice definition. But if we want a well-rounded view, we need to consider other definitions.


“Success is peace of mind which is a direct result of self-satisfaction in knowing you did your best to become the best you are capable of becoming.”

John Wooden

(Love his quotes!)


“The more you’re actively and practically engaged, the more successful you will feel.”

Sir Richard Branson

“To me, success means creating a business that empowers customers, employees, and community in equal measure. We want to add positive value to people’s lives, from a personal and professional standpoint.”

— Dan Kurzius, co-founder and COO of Mailchimp


All of these are great definitions… but there’s a “problem.” All of them are different. So which is the right answer? The most accurate? Answer: None of them. There isn’t one solid definition for success. The only person that can define success for you is, well… you.

But you still don’t know how to define success; you only know who defines success. Now that we have some groundwork done, I’m going to reveal five ways to find your own definition of success. Ready?


  1. Your Gravestone

Gravestone of different colors in a row

No one wants to think about the day they’re going to die. At least, I imagine most of us don’t… But it’s necessary. You have 27,000 days to live. Each second that passes is one second you’ll never regain again. No pressure, right?

My point is that we all want to make this life count. And if we want to make this life count, we have to take a look at our “deadline.”

So, at the end of your life, how do you want to be remembered? What do you want on your gravestone?

“And when he had lived long, and was borne to his grave a hoary corpse… they carved no hopeful verse upon his tombstone, for his dying hour was gloom.”

Young Goodman Brown by Nathaniel Hawthorne

“This tribute of veneration and gratitude is erected in commemoration of the noble and disinterested virtues of the CITIZEN; and
the gallant exploits of the SOLDIER;
Who lived without fear, and died without reproach.”

The bronze plaque on the gravestone of Francis Marion, an American officer who served in the American Revolutionary War.


Thankfully, the happier of these examples is fact, while the other is fiction. So, what do you want your tombstone to read? What do you want in your obituary? When people talk about you at your funeral, what do you want them to say?


My personal opinion:

When I think about dying, what jumps out at me is deathbed regrets. To me, it seems like there’s nothing worse than dying, not able to change anything about the past or future, and regretting how I’d lived. I’m not sure if I’ll die happily, but I want to die knowing that I didn’t waste my life. I touched people; I impacted the world; I made a difference.

That’s part of what defines success for me, but it’s only a piece in a much bigger puzzle.


  1. What Do You Love?

What’s something you could do 27/4 (or almost 24/7)? What’s something you love so much, you’d do it without being paid, but you don’t have the time, money, etc.?

Maybe this isn’t a practical career, or it’s not commonly considered a practical career, such as dancing. Yes, exceptional, world-famous dancers make boatloads of money, but what if you’re not one of those?

Let’s do a little thought experiment. What is money for? It’s for food, clothes, housing, and maybe a few fun things on the side. In essence, you need money so you can keep on living the life you’re living. And why would you get a “practical” career? For the money, of course. But why would you make money doing something that makes you miserable, so you have enough money to live, so you can keep on doing what makes you miserable?

If God’s planted a seed within you, He has plans to cultivate that seed, to bring that dream to pass.

But your career shouldn’t be the only factor in your definition of success, which leads us to the next point:


  1. What Areas Need Improvement?

Now, we’re looking at everything. Assess all areas of your life. At this point, I highly recommend you make a chart, like the one provided by miraclemorning.com.

personal development assessment chart colors

(You can probably tell that this is my personal chart.

Don’t judge my love life.)

Look at each category: Family & Friends, Personal Growth & Development, Spirituality, Finances, Career/Business, Significant Other/Romance, Fun & Recreation, Contribution/Giving, Health/Fitness, and Physical Environment (Home/Office).

What are you doing well in these areas? How can you improve?

And when I say do this exercise, I mean it. If your life has a purpose, you should have goals that lead up to that purpose. Goals give you direction. Don’t skimp on this part.


  1. Find Your Top 5 Values

Here’s yet another exercise, but this is one I had a lot of fun doing. Start with the 49 character traits. Now whittle them down to five. Okay, so easier said than done. There are a lot of character traits I need. What I did is I copied the list into a Microsoft Word document. Then I made another document. I cut and pasted the character traits that didn’t really resonate with me, the ones that didn’t seem as important. This was easy until I got down to a dozen. Then the cutting process was rather painful. I had to cut traits that I really, really valued. There are two ways you can do this.

The first way: Keep the ones that really resonate with you, that define an essential piece of yourself.

The second way: Have five character traits you feel like you excel at and have another five character traits that need improvement.


My personal opinion:

I tried the first way and found my top 5 values were: Love, Humility, Diligence, Enthusiasm, and Sincerity. I had to toss out Wisdom and Faith, not because they weren’t valuable, but they didn’t resonate with me the same way the others did.

Use these values as your guidelines and stick to your principles.


  1. The Mission Statement

Now, we put everything in a pot and stir well. No two mission statements are the same. Some are acronyms, quotes, poems. I just squished my life goals and values into a Word document.

mission statement pic

Your mission statement should be a reminder of what matters most to you. Take whatever you learned from these other points and somehow make it into something you can print. If possible, try to put your mission statement next to a mirror and recite it each day.


This fantastic idea was derived from Seven Habits of a Highly Effective Teen, which I highly recommend reading.


You don’t need someone to define success for you. You define your own success, and I hope the tools above have helped you to not only define success, but to set a few life goals and learn more about yourself along the way. So, what’s next?


“If you really want to do something,

you’ll find a way. If you don’t,

you’ll find an excuse.”

-Jim Rohn

With that, I encourage you to go out there, chase your dreams, and dare greatly.


What did you think of this post? Do you have a way to define your version of success? And does this definition involve remaining stagnant, where you are, or striving for more? What do you want on your gravestone? What do you love to do? What areas do you need to improve in? What are your top 5 values? What will your mission statement look like? Where will you put it? What are your life goals? And finally…

What is your definition of success?

Recent Comments

  • Brenna
    April 4, 2016 - 5:56 pm · Reply

    I know this is late, but thank you so much for this post. Last night, I couldn’t sleep, and I was thinking about how bad I am about wasting time. So somewhat inspired by what you said here, I wrote down six questions: What is important to me? What is fun for me? What are some things that are not fun or important and are taking up too much of my time? What are things I did not mention, but might want to spend more time on? What do I want to accomplish before this year ends? And how are my priorities in life right now reflecting what I consider important and what I want to accomplish?
    For the first two questions, I marked things on the lists I should or could spend more time on. I used these answers to determine my goals. The last question was not one to answer, but to contemplate. Anyway, thank you so much for this excellent post!

    • Elizabeth Newsom
      April 6, 2016 - 3:03 pm · Reply

      My pleasure, Brenna! I’m so honored that you gained something from that post 🙂 One of my life goals is to help and inspire people, so thank you for telling me!

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