Published on December 7, 2020

The Secret to Success: Defining Success on Your Own Term

The Secret to Success: Defining Success on Your Own Term

Whether we admit it or not, we all want to know the secrets to success. We want to uncover the things that are going to help us achieve our goals—whether they’re in work, finances, our relationships, or even our own happiness.

It’s why self-help and productivity book sales have nearly doubled since 2013.[1] It’s why autobiographies and memoirs have surged 42% in the last year alone.[2] We want to study the habits of highly successful people. We want to know what it was that got them to where they were.

And, depending on the book we pick up, there are infinite answers—networking, investments, morning routines, a positive mindset, or the courage to take risks.

With all of the different—and often conflicting—information out there about the secrets to success, how do we actually know what will work for us, specifically? How do we know whose advice to follow or what actions to take?

Is it possible that we have our own personalized blueprint for success? And, rather than blindly follow someone else’s guidance, can we just tap into our own?

Here’s how to discover the real secret to success—on your own terms.

What Are Your Metrics to Success?

A key part of the secret to success is knowing your end goal. It’s impossible to get anywhere if we don’t have a planned destination in mind. Otherwise, we’re just mindlessly driving, hoping that we’ll magically arrive somewhere we want to be.

So, it’s impossible to have a conversation about success without the end goal and metrics in mind. How else will you know if you’re on track to reach your version of success or if you need to course-correct? And how else will you know when you get there?


Success, itself, just means “the accomplishment of an aim or purpose.”[3] Therefore, if we don’t have an aim or purpose, it’s impossible to be successful. We can’t achieve success if we don’t define it first. The definition can give us clues on how to go about achieving it.

For example, if I aim to relax on my day off, then mindlessly watching TV might be seen as successful—but if I aim to get a lot accomplished, not so much.

Or, if I aim to spend quality time with my family today, maybe putting off that back-burner work project until tomorrow is the most successful thing I can do.

Life is all about decisions. You are choosing one path over another. You’re sacrificing one thing to get something else. You might sacrifice a night of partying to study for a test. You might sacrifice that vacation with friends to save up some money. Or, you might sacrifice watching TV tonight to finish that work project.

But you can’t make the decisions of what to choose if you don’t know what success looks like. And you can’t know what success looks like if you don’t know what’s important to you.

Success Is About Values

The first secret to success is first knowing what it is about. We measure what’s important to us. I rarely ever remember what my friend ate during our lunch together, but I definitely remember how meaningful our conversation was.

There are infinite things to measure in any given moment. So, what we choose to measure is important because it tells us if we were successful or not. And we’re consistently going to measure what we value in life.

In fact, the life we lead is largely a reflection of our decisions and values. If we consistently choose other people over ourselves, our lives will reflect that. If we consistently choose work over family, our lives will reflect that, too.


Our values dictate our actions. They tell us if we’re actually successful in what we’re really after or not, and then how to course-correct. And that means it’s impossible to achieve any form of success without knowing our values.

If I get a promotion that’s only a little bit more money but a lot more time on the road, and I really value quality time with family, is that promotion really a success for me? If I have tons of fun plans but really value free time for myself, are those plans really a success for me?

Regardless of what the “objective metrics of success” out there say, if something doesn’t align with our values, then it doesn’t measure up to our definition of success.

To define success for yourself, you have to start by knowing your own values so you can be successful at what you care about.

Values Are About Sensitivities

But how do we actually know our values? How do we know what we really care about?

It seems like our values change a lot throughout our lives or in different situations. When we’re young, we might value independence. When we’re older, we might change this and start to value connections more. Or, in work, we value creativity But at home, we value structure.

Furthermore, how can we trust that we aren’t just copying other people’s values like their definitions of success?

The good news is that we have a built-in guidance system that tells us what we value—our sensitivities. Since we were born, we’ve been sensitive to some things but not others.


Maybe we’ve always been sensitive to freedom, and we’re constantly feeling trapped and looking for opportunities to feel freer. Or maybe, we’ve always been sensitive to belonging and feel left out really easily and always want to make people feel like they belong.

We tend to value what we notice and feel deeply. And we tend to feel what we’re most sensitive to because ‘sensitivity’ means we can sense more—see, touch, taste, smell, hear more there than most other people.

Of course, we’re going to have more wants, desires, needs, traumas, and gifts in that area of life because we’re more sensitive to it. Those same sensitivities are going to run through every single experience of our lives, across work and our family life and our friendships—from childhood to the present moment and even our future.

They’re going to show up in our greatest triumphs and painful traumas. They’re going to show up in the best and worst moments of our lives. Every single time we’ve ever been successful, we have felt all of them. Every single time we haven’t been successful, we haven’t felt them.

They’re a reliable, predictable formula for success and fulfillment that works in every situation of our lives. They’re our secret to success—how we define success on our own terms.

Now, all we have to do is map your sensitivities to define success for yourself.

Map Your Sensitivities to Discover Your Definition of Success

To start mapping your sensitivities, you need emotionally potent stories from your life—noticing the sensitivities and, therefore, values and metrics for success that are apparent in your stories.

So, below is a quick exercise to guide you through starting to map your sensitivities:


  1. Think of the happiest, most successful memory in your life. Paint a picture in your mind. Notice what you see, touch, smell, hear and taste in this scene.
    Write down every word that you felt at this moment. Maybe you felt happy, elated, powerful, magical, successful, alive, enriched, or emboldened.
  2. Now, think of one of the most challenging or painful memories in your life (that doesn’t feel re-traumatizing to explore)—a moment you would regard as “unsuccessful.” Again, paint the picture in your mind and use all of your senses to bring it to life.
    Write down every word that captures how you felt at that moment. Maybe you felt sad, abandoned, confused, stuck, lost, or annoyed. Now, next to each word, write down what you wanted to feel. Maybe you wanted to feel happy, connected, clear, motivated, at home, or excited.
  3. Go through your two lists—of your happy moment and your challenging moment—and circle any words that show up twice or more. For example, if you felt Connected in your happy moment, and you wanted to feel Connected in your sad moment, circle it. If any words are very similar, you can circle those, too.
    Now, you’re beginning to map your sensitivities. If you felt all of the words you circled, would you consider it a success? Of course, you would. Because they’re what you’re most sensitive to and, therefore, what you value. You can think back to past moments of success and begin to see those words. You can think back to past moments of “failure” and see the opposites of those words.

While this is a very simple but potent introduction to defining success for yourself, mapping sensitivities can be a lot more in-depth and insightful than this.

The Secrets to Success

We all already have a lifetime of experiences that define success for us. They tell us the things that have been successful for us—from our best friendships to our biggest accomplishments. And they also tell us the things that have been unsuccessful for us. All we have to do is connect the dots between all of those experiences and understand the sensitivities that define success for us.

The real secret to success is following the blueprint that’s already proven to be successful for you. Your entire life already has that evidence. Maybe every single time you’ve connected deeply, been playful and fun, put out strategic ideas, and been unapologetic with your opinions, you’ve been successful. If that’s been true for you, then you already know your secret to success. You’ve seen it in the past and know that it will work in the future.

It’s success on your own terms.

I’ve helped hundreds of people discover their sensitivities, and I can say with certainty that, at the end of the day, we each have our own unique secret to success. And we don’t have to copy anyone else’s formula because no one else has the exact gifts and experiences and sensitivities that we have.

So, map your sensitivities. Discover your own secret to success. And define success on your own terms.

Featured photo credit: Samuel Clara via


[1] The NPD Group: Self Help Book Sales are Rising Fast in the US
[2] The Guardian: Why Real-Life Memoirs Are Such a Hit
[3] Oxford Languages: Success

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Mike Iamele

Mike Iamele is a Purpose + Brand Strategist who figures out what makes you naturally successful. Then helps you do it on purpose.

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Last Updated on July 21, 2021

17 Traits That Make a Successful Person Stand out from the Crowd

17 Traits That Make a Successful Person Stand out from the Crowd

If you are like most people, you probably have big goals and dreams that you would like to succeed in — you want to be the top in your career, live a healthy lifestyle, or flourish in your relationships.

Everyone dreams of a positive future, but most people don’t realize the secret to a truly successful life:

You determine your future in the way you spend your everyday moments. If you want to be a successful person, you must consistently develop good daily habits. As Aristotle pointed out:

“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit”.

Building positive daily habits is a huge challenge, but can you imagine the amazing things you could accomplish with just a little commitment and determination?

Creating lasting, healthy habits is the real key difference between people who are successful in life and those who are unsuccessful.

You might be wondering which specific habits make the biggest difference. Not to worry, I’ve compiled a comparison list to help you get a jump start on a successful future.

1. Successful people embrace change. Unsuccessful people fear change.

Change is a constant for all of humanity, and it is important that you develop a positive relationship with it.

When unexpected or unwelcome changes arise, ask yourself how you can embrace it instead of running away. A few practical ways to reverse a change-fearing mindset include:

  • Take a moment to recognize and address any fears associated with the upcoming change.
  • Communicate with a person you trust about your negative feelings toward change.
  • Practice positive thinking, which you can read about in the next section.

2. Successful people exude joy. Unsuccessful people think, say and do negative things.

A joyful, positive disposition can seem like a distant reality in today’s cynical world, but it may be easier to achieve than you think. All you have to do is notice the good things around you and practice being thankful.


Mindfulness and gratitude are not just buzz words – choosing a positive attitude can honestly change your life. Many studies have found that thankfulness leads to greater happiness. Furthermore, research indicates that gratitude may even have a lasting positive impact on the brain and overall mental health.[1]

3. Successful people forgive others. Unsuccessful people hold grudges.

As a human being, you have likely been offended or hurt by others plenty of times. Don’t give in to the temptation to hold a grudge. Let it go.

Note that forgiving someone does not equate to giving up your boundaries (which are very important) or even admitting that the offending party is right. You should choose to let go for your own peace of mind.

4. Successful people track progress. Unsuccessful people just criticize.

Some kinds of criticism, such as constructive criticism, are good for personal and professional development. The kind of criticism I’m talking about is the pessimistic, nagging, unhelpful variety. This is the kind of criticism in play when you are unfairly harsh to yourself or others.

Toss unfounded criticisms aside and consider tracking your “wins” or your progresses, no matter how small. Take mental notes or keep a progress journal.

If you have a solid sense of what you have achieved, you will be less tempted to be hard on yourself.

5. Successful people share information, data and ideas. Unsuccessful people hoard.

If you have useful information or generate brilliant ideas on the regular, your first instinct may be to keep it all to yourself for personal gain and solo recognition.

Instead of hoarding bright ideas, share them with your team. Your talents will be on display for the team, and the team will be able to support you and make your ideas a reality.

6. Successful people are humble. Unsuccessful people talk more than they listen.

Humility is key. The ability to listen to other people, really listen and understand, is essential to success in both work and relationships — and to listen you have to be humble.

Everyone has experienced the frustration of being in a one-sided conversation. When someone approaches you with a question or concern, put your own world aside for just a moment and give them the kindness of your full attention.


7. Successful people take risks. Unsuccessful people take the easy way out.

The next time your heart is racing and you want to walk away, consider embracing the risk. You never know what might happen if you take a chance.

Embracing risks looks like accepting the speaking engagement even though it seems a little scary. Success takes the courageous route, not the easy route.

8. Successful people learn, improve and read every day. Unsuccessful people stop learning.

Instead of binge-watching a show tonight, save an hour before bed to read a book and expand your mind.

Unsuccessful people are afraid to be flexible – they don’t challenge themselves to learn new things. Avoid this pitfall by exposing yourself to new thoughts and ideas every day.

9. Successful people handle problems well. Unsuccessful people act before they think.

The next time you run into a problem or even an emergency, try to work through your initial panic reaction with a few deep breaths.

Instead of acting rashly, think through your next actions as quickly but as logically as you can.

Learning to handle problems thoughtfully is an absolutely essential tool in the successful person’s toolbox (that’s you!).

10. Successful people accept responsibility for their failures. Unsuccessful people blame others.

Along with a previous tip about humility, this is one of the hardest things you’ll ever learn to do – but also the most rewarding. When you’ve failed, you must fight the urge to pass the blame. Successful people are able to fail honestly and gracefully.

And, hey, don’t feel bad about failing. Some of the most successful people in the world have failed too many times to count. It’s all a part of the process.

You can check out this article for more tips on how to fail well:


How Failure Helps You To Succeed and Grow

11. Successful people work with passion and commitment. Unsuccessful people have a sense of entitlement.

A short and sweet lesson for you:

You should never expect to achieve the things you want without working hard.

Follow your passion and stay committed to pursuing it. Work hard and stick to your habits every day. You’ll earn your reward.

12. Successful people spend time with the right people. Unsuccessful people think they already know it all.

A lot of people miss out on useful relationships and information sharing because they think they can do it all alone.

Spend time with people who inspire you, spur you to be a better person, and remind you that you can’t go it alone.

13. Successful people make to-do lists and maintain proper life balance. Unsuccessful people waste their time.

Ah, time management. Unsuccessful people never master the art of organization and planning.

Here are a few tips for you when it comes to time management:

  • Make to-do lists. Seriously, this will help you. Make time to do it every morning, evening, or whenever you are able.
  • Keep track of your time. Are you happy with the way you are currently balancing things? What changes can you make?
  • Keep a calendar full of your long-term goals (see next tip).

14. Successful people write down goals and think long term about their burning desires. Unsuccessful people get distracted every day.

Why is it so important to keep a long-term goal calendar? Here’s the deal:

The things you are passionate about today need a backbone.


Give your passionate ideas sustainability by writing down goals and staying on task instead of succumbing to distraction.

15. Successful people compliment others. Unsuccessful people try to bring others down to their level.

There is no greater confidence than saying “no” to sudden jealous or envious feelings and choosing to sincerely admire someone’s talents instead.

Unsuccessful people live in a world driven by competition, but successful people know that building people up is far more rewarding than bringing them down.

16. Successful people want others to succeed. Unsuccessful people secretly hope they fail.

In the same vein as the point above, this tip is all about good intentions.

Care for the people around you. Encourage them toward their successes. Hoping that others fail will not help you at all.

17. Successful people know their purpose and mission. Unsuccessful people don’t know what they want to be.

The last thing that differentiates successful people from unsuccessful people is one of the most important:

Keep your mission in mind.

Don’t be swayed to and fro by passing emotions and events. Know who you are and pursue your dreams wholeheartedly.

Final thoughts

Above all, stay confident. Truly believe that you can be and are successful. Strive to prove it in your day-to-day habits and activities!

What are you waiting for? Choose one of the habits above and get started today.


Featured photo credit: Unsplash via


[1] Berkeley University of California: How Gratitude Changes You and Your Brain

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