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What Is Success?

What Is Success?


Well, here we are again.  The end of another calendar year.  For some it was a banner year filled with great accomplishments and bountiful blessings while others the past 12 months brought disappointment, stress, and even despair.  A tale of two years.

Each year’s end many of us tend to look back, reviewing and evaluating career, relationships, health, fitness, and any number of things we set out to do.  We do so in order to determine if we were successful.  Now there is an interesting concept…success.


What is success? 

A quick look online we find:

suc·cess /səkˈses/


      1. the accomplishment of an aim or purpose. “there is a thin line between success and failure”
      2. the good or bad outcome of an undertaking. “the good or ill success of their maritime enterprises”

A successful person sets and achieves goals but how we define success is what gives our goals meaning.  Some people may define success as being happy and fulfilled, while others may define it as having status and accomplishments. Often all of these elements are relevant. Where we go sideways is beginning an endeavor with without considering what success looks like.

Every semester I am privileged to teach an entrepreneurial foundations class at the University of Nebraska at Omaha (UNO…go Mavs!).  One of the very first exercises I ask students to accomplish is defining how they envision success.  A seemingly easy in the context of business, right?  Growth, sales, bottom line, cost reduction.  Easy.  That is until I push them to think about success beyond the almighty dollar.  I implore them think in terms of intrinsic factors like happiness, relationships, mental health, or fulfillment.  What do they want to accomplish in life that will bring them happiness and fulfillment, now build a business to make that happen.  Reverse engineering so to speak.


How many times have you read or heard of people achieving great levels of wealth but are miserable because their relationships with their family are strained?  How many people do you know who are part of a very loving and caring family unit but struggle professionally and financially?  These are not problems with goals; they are problems with definitions of success.

Defining success under a set of conditions but evaluating with different lenses generally leads to disappointment. If you set a goal of becoming a millionaire then sought out to amass great amounts of money then you cannot be upset if your personal relationships suffer because that is not how you defined success.  Similarly, if you do achieve the wealth of a millionaire but are wholly unhappy then success was ill defined or evaluated against different criteria.

Every New Year we set goals.  Instead of resolutions this new year, at the very least before setting some grandiose goals, sit for a moment and think about what will make you feel successful.  Consider the elements that bring you happiness and a sense of fulfillment.  Allow your goals to bring intrinsic value beyond the achievement itself.  Reverse engineer your new year!

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