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Is There a True Measure of Success? How to Define Your Own

Is There a True Measure of Success? How to Define Your Own

Success is an enchanting word. It’s the magical stardust we all want to be touched by. It’s a goal on its own for many too, a motivator, a reason to wake up every day with the drive to take on the world and “have it all.”

Luckily, there is barely a shortage of advice on how you can thrive and prosper. In fact, a simple question to Google on “how to be successful” yields the impressive 815 million results.

Why is success so popular of a notion? Because it feels good to be at the top, to see your hard work pay off, to be smiled upon by the good-fate fairy. It’s a high like no other.

But every so often, success feels like a chimera more than a real thing— a lot like happiness, in fact. We talk, read and write books about it, listen to wise men and women coach us on “how to get there” or of the “habits of the ultra successful.”

And yet—it’s a tantalizing feeling—you are never completely satisfied with yourself, because there is someone who is always more “successful”—richer, more popular, better looking, has more friends.

So, how can you ever know with certainty that you have finally made it? Is there a measure of success?

Does the magnitude of your success depend on the amount of money you have in the bank, the number of friends on social media, the amount of times you have been recognized for something, your GPA score, the university were accepted into, or perhaps—how many lives you’ve changed?

The answer is that it all depends on how you define success for yourself and how you choose to measure it.

What is success really?

Before we launch into exploring the above questions, let’s briefly review what the greates can tell us about the meaning of success.

According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, the most common definition of success is:

“Favorable or desired outcome, the attainment of wealth, favor or eminence.”

But is there more to it than fame and money?

“In my opinion, true success should be measured by how happy you are.” —  Richard Branson, founder of Virgin Group

“Success isn’t how much money you have. Success is not what your position is. Success is how well you do what you do when nobody else is looking.” — John Paul DeJoria, billionaire entrepreneur

“The definition of success is waking up in the morning with a smile on your face, knowing it’s going to be a great day.” — Mark Cuban, billionaire investor

“I measure success by how many people love me.” — Warren Buffet, billionaire investor.

“It is also nice to feel like you made a difference — inventing something or raising kids or helping people in need.” — Bill Gates, Microsoft cofounder

What isn’t success

Based on the above ruminations of these truly successful people (according to society’s opinion too), success starts to shape more as an internal feeling, a sense of purpose and of fulfilment rather than the pursuit of accolades from others or a large bank account.

Although all these individuals are undoubtedly wealthy, notice that no one mentions “having millions in the bank” as a definition of success. Nor things along the lines of more followers on social media, making others envious or having an expensive lifestyle.

This is not what success is or how it should be measured.

How success is measured

There are several “common” (not necessarily genuine) measures of success, by society definitions. Although we may not agree with all, accept them or even live by them, they are still worth noting:

Wealth

Money and material possessions are sadly, still a rather universal (although often very deceptive) equivalent of success. If you are rich, then you must be successful, right?

There are many flaws in this assumption which we will review a bit later, but for now, let’s say that wealth may indeed, accompany success—but it should be viewed as more of a consequence of your achievements rather than a goal in itself.

Popularity

With wealth often comes popularity. The two notions are frequently viewed as close cousins, especially when we think about famous actors, writers, or entrepreneurs.

By extension, we also have the online influencers—that is, success may sometimes be expressed by the number of the people who follow you on social media and whom you can reach and impact with your content and posts.

External vs Internal

Wealth and popularity are some of the external measures of success. They are somewhat more tangible and easier to compare.

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There is, however, a whole other universe of success definitions which are invisible, can’t be easily measured and are highly personalized.

Internal evaluators are better gauges of success, though, as they are set by us and thus—follow our own life trajectory. More on this later.

Comparisons

A very common way to know if you have “made it” is to look at your neighbour’s yard and check how you fare against them.

Comparisons are not always bad though, sometimes they can be motivating, depending on who we fare against and to what ends.

The flawed external measures of success

Most of the above-mentioned measures of success—the external ones— although rather omnipresent, don’t quite work to give you a peace of mind that you are really at the top of your game.

Just think about it— how many cases have you witnessed or read about of people who appear to have it all on the outside and yet—they are deeply unhappy, insecure and depressed? And even more— why when we achieve success, say, something that we’ve strived for, the jittery feeling doesn’t last?

One reason is that success is susceptible to the so-called hedonic treadmill.[1] It’s our tendency to adjust to events in our lives rather quickly.

Studies have found that when people through major events—be it winning the lottery, getting a promotion, winning a prize— they report that their happiness doesn’t last long after winning. They feel a temporary high which wears off rather quickly.

Another interesting study has found that bronze medalist are actually much happier than the silver medalists.[2] Although counter-intuitive at first thought, according to the research, such individuals engage in “counterfactual thinking.” That is, they compare against what may have been (not winning a medal at all).

It’s all in the mind and how we perceive the world to be—winning vs. losing, success vs. failure, beautiful vs. unattractive. It’s often all in the eye of the beholder, it seems.

How to find your own ruler

So, an open question still remains—what if you work in, say, a charity organization or a shelter, making a modest salary but are able to help many people? Are you successful or not?

What about someone like Vincent Van Gogh who produced more than 900 paintings in his lifetime but was only able to sell one? Then, you also have Emily Dickinson, Franz Kafka, Stieg Larson, Oscar Wilde—all of whom were unrecognized during their lifetimes. To the world, they were far from thriving.

But what if you applied another measure?

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What if you are Van Gogh and you set a goal for yourself that you will finish one painting per month? You achieve your goal. Are you successful in finishing what you set your sight on? Absolutely.

What if you manage to produce two paintings a month instead of one. Are you successful? Of course—you overachieved.

So, it’s perhaps possible to accept that to himself Van Gogh was a successful painter. He was very productive and focused.

More importantly, though, he was very fortunate to do what he loved, it brought him fulfillment and satisfaction. It gave meaning to his life, although not any wealth or appraisal from others.

The true measures of success

The main reason why external measures of success are flawed is that they were created by someone else. So faring our achievements against these artificial standards means that we evaluate ourselves against a bar which someone else created for us.

Rather, doesn’t it make more sense to measure success according to our own ruler—whether we find what we do meaningful to us, whether it helps others’ lives improve and whether we have more happy memories than regrets at the end of our lives?

Research tells us that people on t heir death beds have the following regrets—have the courage to live a life true to yourself, not to others’ expectations; don’t work so hard; have the courage to express your true feelings; stay in touch with your friends; let yourself be happy.[3]

So, meaningful life and success, by extension, have nothing to do with wealth, fame, number of claps of social media, number of houses or expensive cars one has.

But they have everything to do with working on what makes us happy, with living the way it makes most sense to us and surrounding ourselves with people who bring love and warmth to our lives.

How to evaluate your success the right way

One very important thing to grasp is that being successful doesn’t always have to be measured in tangible terms, especially not the ones created by others.

That is—make your own standards if you don’t want to be stuck in a perpetual “why-others-have-more” spinning wheel.

You will know if you’ve “made it” if:

  • You love your life in general. You have a purpose and what you do is meaningful to you.
  • You are proud of yourself for what you have accomplished so far.
  • You do something bigger than you. You touch others’ lives and make them better.
  • You have people who care about you (and you care about) with whom you share your achievements. You don’t have to advertise your victories to the whole world—just to those who will be really able to share your joy and appreciate your hard work.
  • You see progress. You are not stuck in the status quo, you are evolving and improving.

However, it may be true that you still need some external point of reference to know how you are doing. For instance, how to know how smart you are, or how good you are at math, at managing your finances, or dealing with people?

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One way to answer this is by measuring up against past precedents or to others in similar situations and settings. But external comparisons must be approached with caution—you must be carefully selective about who you weigh yourselfs against and the dimensions you elect to measure up to.

First and foremost, though, whenever possible, you must value your achievements against your past self.

Summing it all up

The best way to measure success is to define what it means and looks like to you, and then assess your progress against these goals.

For instance, success for someone may be to publish their first book. Once you have this aspiration, break it down in smaller bite-size tasks—say, you commit to write 500 words every day. You check yourself against the aim you yourself set for you.

For another person, success may be to become a millionaire—again—figure out the steps you need to take to get there and follow through. Or perhaps you want to finish a marathon. Then commit to run every day, gradually increasing the distance.

And if you fall short, don’t beat yourself up. Remember that success may be also viewed as simply trying, moving, taking action.

Final take-aways:

  • Drive is more important than the outcome for success—or as they say, it’s about the journey as much as the destination.
  • Success may be in the eye of the beholder, but there are some universal ways to measure it—namely, through progress, fulfillment and self-pride.
  • Success doesn’t recognition from the world. If it comes, then all the better. But it’s not a pre-requisite to feel that you have accomplished what you have set out for yourself or that you have made the world a better place.
  • And let’s not forget the good-old fear of failure. It is as Stephen Richards says: “The true measure of success is how many times you can bounce back from failure.” It’s not about never experiencing a setback or a stormy day, it’s about learning to dance in the rain.

If what you do makes you happy, content and motivated to achieve more, then, my friend, you are succeeding.

Or, as the great Maya Angelou beautifully said it:

“Success is liking yourself, liking what you do, and liking how you do it.”

It’s that simple, really.

Featured photo credit: Christian Kaindl via unsplash.com

Reference

More by this author

Evelyn Marinoff

A wellness advocate who writes about the psychology behind confidence, happiness and well-being.

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Last Updated on January 13, 2020

50 Motivational Quotes for Work to Inspire Success

50 Motivational Quotes for Work to Inspire Success

Let’s face it – no matter how excited you are about a new project or priority in your life, there will always be days when your motivation lags. Days when – despite all the progress you’ve made in the past – it just sounds easier to sit on the couch playing video games than to buckle down and crank out the work needed to meet your goals.

In order to be successful, you must be able to motivate yourself past these humps. Whenever you feel your drive and determination lagging, turn to these motivational quotes for work to provide the extra spark of passion needed to keep you on track.

Quotes about Goal Setting

Whether you’re still in the planning phases of your business or whether you’re plotting a plan of attack to bring about your long-range vision, setting good goals is a critical part of succeeding in business.

Check out these quotes for extra inspiration on how to turn your dreams into reality:

quote-Benjamin-E.-Mays-the-tragedy-in-life-doesnt-lie-in-106113

    “The tragedy in life doesn’t lie in not reaching your goal. The tragedy lies in having no goal to reach.”– Benjamin Mays


    “By recording your dreams and goals on paper, you set in motion the process of becoming the person you most want to be. Put your future in good hands — your own.”–Mark Victor Hansen


    “Give yourself an even greater challenge than the one you are trying to master and you will develop the powers necessary to overcome the original difficulty.”–William J. Bennett – The Book of Virtues


    “The entrepreneur is essentially a visualizer and actualizer… He can visualize something, and when he visualizes it he sees exactly how to make it happen.”–Robert L. Schwartz

    Quotes about Achieving Excellence in Work

    Once you’ve got your goals together, you’ll need to put in 110% of your effort in order to transform these visions into reality. To increase your motivation to work at a consistently high level, take a look at the following words of wisdom:

    “Excellence is an art won by training and habituation. We do not act rightly because we have virtue or excellence, but we rather have those because we have acted rightly. We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit.”–Aristotle


    “If you are going to achieve excellence in big things, you develop the habit in little matters. Excellence is not an exception, it is a prevailing attitude.”–Charles R. Swindoll

    Desire is the key to motivation

      “Desire is the key to motivation, but it’s determination and commitment to an unrelenting pursuit of your goal — a commitment to excellence — that will enable you to attain the success you seek.”–Mario Andretti


      “The secret of joy in work is contained in one word – excellence. To know how to do something well is to enjoy it.”–Pearl Buck


      “The quality of a person’s life is in direct proportion to their commitment to excellence, regardless of their chosen field of endeavor.”–Vince Lombardi

      Quotes about Determination and Persistence

      Since every business or other endeavor is bound to hit some rough patches, it’s often a person’s level of determination and patience that brings about either success or failure. These positive quotes give you an extra boost of encouragement:

      “Enter every activity without giving mental recognition to the possibility of defeat. Concentrate on your strengths, instead of your weaknesses… on your powers, instead of your problems.”–Paul J. Meyer


      “Knowing trees, I understand the meaning of patience. Knowing grass, I can appreciate persistence.”–Hal Borland


      “Nothing in the world can take the place of Persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. The slogan ‘Press On’ has solved and always will solve the problems of the human race.”–Calvin Coolidge

      quote-Thomas-Fuller-an-invincible-determination-can-accomplish-almost-anything-92190

        “An invincible determination can accomplish almost anything and in this lies the great distinction between great men and little men.”–Thomas Fuller

        Quotes about Leadership

        Whether you use it to engage your employees, to encourage teamwork or motivate others to follow your unique way of thinking, leadership is crucial. Take your leadership cues from these renowned leaders’ famous sayings:

        “The most dangerous leadership myth is that leaders are born — that there is a genetic factor to leadership. This myth asserts that people simply either have certain charismatic qualities or not. That’s nonsense; in fact, the opposite is true. Leaders are made rather than born.” –Warren G. Bennis


        “All of the great leaders have had one characteristic in common: it was the willingness to confront unequivocally the major anxiety of their people in their time. This, and not much else, is the essence of leadership.”–John Kenneth Galbraith

        Leadership is not magnetic personality

          “Leadership is not magnetic personality — that can just as well be a glib tongue. It is not ‘making friends and influencing people’ — that is flattery. Leadership is lifting a person’s vision to high sights, the raising of a person’s performance to a higher standard, the building of a personality beyond its normal limitations.”–Peter F. Drucker


          “The task of leadership is not to put greatness into people, but to elicit it, for the greatness is there already.”–John Buchan


          “High sentiments always win in the end. The leaders who offer blood, toil, tears and sweat always get more out of their followers than those who offer safety and a good time. When it comes to the pinch, human beings are heroic.”–George Orwell

          Quotes for Success

          Think of success as a holistic process – one which results from the combination of goal-setting, excellence, patience, determination and leadership you prioritize throughout your career. These highly successful people provide you with an excellent source of motivation:

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          “Be patient with yourself. Self-growth is tender; it’s holy ground. There’s no greater investment.”–Stephen Covey


          “Believe in yourself! Have faith in your abilities! Without a humble but reasonable confidence in your own powers you cannot be successful or happy.”–Norman Vincent Peale

          Success is the ability to go from one failure to another with no loss of enthusiasm.

            “Success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm.”–Winston Churchill


            “Successful and unsuccessful people do not vary greatly in their abilities. They vary in their desires to reach their potential.”–John Maxwell


            “Would you like me to give you a formula for success? It’s quite simple, really. Double your rate of failure. You are thinking of failure as the enemy of success. But it isn’t at all. You can be discouraged by failure or you can learn from it, So go ahead and make mistakes. Make all you can. Because remember that’s where you will find success.”– Thomas J. Watson


            “The great successful men of the world have used their imagination.  They think ahead and create their mental picture in all its details, filling in here, adding a little there, altering this a bit and that a bit, but steadily building – steadily building.”–Robert Collier


            “It is a paradoxical but profoundly true and important principle of life that the most likely way to reach a goal is to be aiming not at that goal itself but at some more ambitious goal beyond it.”–Arnold Toynbee

            Sports Quotes for Athletes

            You don’t need to be a Michael Jordan-caliber athlete to draw inspiration from the following quotes. Even if you’re just a recreational player or someone who’s using sports as a means to get back in shape after long periods of inactivity, the following motivational sports quotes will encourage you:

            “My attitude is that if you push me towards something that you think is a weakness, then I will turn that perceived weakness into a strength.”–Michael Jordan


            “Pain is temporary. It may last a minute, or an hour, or a day, or a year, but eventually it will subside and something else will take its place. If I quit, however, it lasts forever.”–Lance Armstrong

            Strength does not come from winning. Your struggles develop your strengths.

              “Strength does not come from winning. Your struggles develop your strengths. When you go through hardships and decide not to surrender, that is strength.”–Arnold Schwarzenegger


              “I know what I have to do, and I’m going to do whatever it takes. If I do it, I’ll come out a winner, and it doesn’t matter what anyone else does.”–Florence Griffith Joyner


              “Every time you stay out late; every time you sleep in; every time you miss a workout; every time you don’t give 100% – You make it that much easier for me to beat you.”–Unknown


              “If you are hurt, whether in mind or body, don’t nurse your bruises. Get up and light-heartedly, courageously, good temperedly get ready for the next encounter. This is the only way to take life – this is also ‘playing’ the game!”–Emily Post


              “We must train from the inside out. Using our strengths to attack and nullify any weaknesses. It’s not about denying a weakness may exist but about denying its right to persist.”–Vince McConnell

              Quotes to Motivate Learning

              Committing yourself to pursuing knowledge in a single area is a tremendous endeavor – one that often seems overwhelming given the depth and breadth of information that’s available today. Keep the following motivational quotes in mind if you’re learning:

              “How far you go in life depends on your being tender with the young, compassionate with the aged, sympathetic with the striving and tolerant of the weak and the strong. Because someday in life you will have been all of these.”–George Washington Carver

              quote-William-Arthur-Ward-if-you-can-imagine-it-you-can-36189

                “If you can imagine it, you can achieve it; if you can dream it, you can become it.”–William Arthur Ward


                “It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.”– Aristotle


                “Success is not the key to happiness.Happiness is the key to success.If you love what you are doing, you will be successful.”–Albert Schweitzer


                “Wear your learning, like your watch, in a private pocket: and do not pull it out and strike it, merely to show that you have one.”–Philip Stanhope, 4th Earl of Chesterfield


                “He who asks is a fool for five minutes, but he who does not ask remains a fool forever.”–Chinese Proverb


                “Study while others are sleeping; work while others are loafing; prepare while others are playing; and dream while others are wishing.”–William Arthur Ward


                “Books can be dangerous. The best ones should be labeled ‘This could change your life’.”–Helen Exley


                “A book is like a garden carried in the pocket.”–Chinese Proverb

                All-Time Favorite Positive Quotes

                Finally, whatever your goals are in life, you can’t go wrong by taking the advice of the following famous motivational quotes:

                “Change your thoughts and you change your world.”–Norman Vincent Peale


                “Your time is limited, don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma, which is living the result of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of other’s opinion drowned your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition, they somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.”–Steve Jobs


                “Nobody can go back and start a new beginning, but anyone can start today and make a new ending.”–Maria Robinson


                “Out of clutter, find Simplicity. From discord, find Harmony. In the middle of difficulty lies Opportunity.”–Albert Einstein


                “Yesterday is not ours to recover, but tomorrow is ours to win or lose.”–Lyndon Johnson

                If we did all the things we are capable of, we would literally astound ourselves.

                  “If we did all the things we are capable of, we would astound ourselves.”–Thomas Edison


                  “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.”–Wayne Gretzky


                  “Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.”–Winston Churchill


                  “What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us.”–Ralph Waldo Emerson

                  Final Thoughts

                  To use these motivational quotes effectively, find the one that speaks to you. Although all of the phrases listed above can be considered “motivational,” only you can decide which one resonates with you most directly.

                  Next, take the quote you’ve settled on and copy it onto small index cards or other pieces of paper that can be stored around your home and workspace.

                  If you’re creative, you can create inspiration boards, signs or other decorative displays featuring your favorite motivational quotes – really, though, the most important thing is that your chosen phrase be accessible in a variety of different places. This will make it easy to access and review whenever you feel your motivation slipping away.

                  More Inspiring Quotes

                  Featured photo credit: Kyle Glenn via unsplash.com

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