What Does Success Mean? 9 Ways To Achieve It

The Oxford Dictionary defines success as the accomplishment of an aim or purpose. While that’s how it’s technically defined, you still might wonder, what does success really mean?

What success means to you?

Everyone can choose to come up with their own version of what being successful means to them.

You just have to take time to sit and reflect on what would make you feel accomplished in life.

Here are some examples of how other people define success for themselves:

Person with arms raised smiling

1. How Trevor Lawrence defines success

Trevor Lawrence was selected as the 1st overall pick in the 2021 draft and is set to earn millions of dollars this year.

But in an interview with Sports Illustrated, success to Lawrence is about how he chooses to live his life.

While he hopes to win games and get a Super Bowl ring, it’s more important to him what type of husband and dad he is.

2. How senior executives define success

Man in business suit walking downstairs

Based on 4,000 interviews and 80 surveys, the most common way senior executives defined success was making a difference and having rewarding relationships.

Based on the results, the Harvard Business Review recommends basing our success less on objective metrics:

  • Job title
  • Salary
  • Personal achievements

And instead base it more on subjective metrics such as:

  • Enjoyment of work
  • Happy marriage
  • Freedom to relax

Here’s what a few other business leaders said in the Inc. article, how do you define success?

To me, success means creating a business that empowers customers, employees, and a community in equal measure.

– Dan Kurzius, COO of Mailchimp

 Success is not having to describe what’s been accomplished… others do it for you.

– Deborah Hopkins, Chief Innovation Officer of Citibank

My definition of success is knowing that what you are doing is helping you and others lead a better, happier, healthier life.

– Kara Goldin, CEO of Hint Water

3. How university students see success

Woman in graduation outfit

A recent study looked at how students viewed success in life as they were getting ready to graduate and move on to careers.

The researchers were surprised to learn that academic success or achieving a high salary job wasn’t the most common answer.

Instead, some of the answers included:

  • Being mentally well
  • Surviving
  • Already being university

Most students interestingly saw themselves as successful already.

4. How men and women view success

In a study of what matters most to women and men, it may not be surprising to learn that women and men define success differently.

Interviews were done with 40 women and men who were successful in their career fields.

Women primarily said balance and relationships were what defined successful for them.

Men primarily focused on material gains as a part of what it means to be successful.

Society’s idea of success

Pool with trees

If you grew up watching TV or following pop culture, you were probably influenced to believe success was about having things.

Having a big house, lots of cars, and a large amount of money in your bank account. Maybe you were also led to believe that being famous was a part of being successful.

Going viral on the internet or becoming a celebrity in some kind of way. One of the biggest ways society defines success is getting a college degree.

As Mitchka Saberi puts it in this Odyssey article titled, “Our Society’s Definition of Success”, “We’ve been told this for our whole lives, causing our ultimate fear to be not succeeding.”

But I like the way she counters that definition of success. Saberi states “If it’s not a positive contribution to your own quality of life, then it’s not success, even if everyone else is saying that it is.”

Studying a field we don’t like or working all the time just to be rich isn’t positive for our lives.

Perhaps what is positive is learning things we have an interest in. Doing work that we find valuable.

Making time for those we care about and having a quality relationship. It’s important to evaluate what success is to you in contrast to what society tells you is success.

When success is achieved

It’s not uncommon that we recognize society’s version of success isn’t our version until we get older.

You might feel after you recognize what’s fulfilling to you that it’s too late to make it happen.

But there are many cases where people achieved the success they desired late in life. Here are some examples:

  • Donald Fisher started the first Gap store at age 40.
  • Actor Samuel L. Jackson had one of his first major roles starring in Jungle Fever in 1991 at age 43.
  • Sam Walton founded the first Wal-Mart at age 44.
  • Comedian Rodney Dangerfield got a big break at age 46 appearing on “The Ed Sullivan Show”.
  • Momofuku Ando invented instant ramen at age 48 in 1958.
  • Julia Child wrote her first successful cookbook at age 50.
  • Anne Mary Robertson Moses became a successful painter at age 78.

As you can see, there are lots of examples of people who became a success in late life.

If you need more inspiration, here are some great articles that talk about others who had their achievements at an older age.

25 People Who Became Highly Successful After Age 40

14 Inspiring People Who Found Crazy Success Later in Life …

30 Famous People Who Didn’t Make It Until After Age 30 

How to achieve success

Achieving success can be challenging, but it is possible. There are research-backed techniques you can use to increase your chances.

Here are some of the most recent studies on achieving success.

Man raising fist

1. Create early success in your day

Stony Brook University did a study that found people who have early success experienced significant increases in their rates of success.

In other words, as the old saying goes, success breeds success. Find ways to create early success in your day.

Accomplish the smallest tasks in your morning such as making your bed, getting dressed, or washing your face.

You can create a momentum of success that makes it more likely you have significant achievements in your day.

2. Monitor goal progress

This study may have been shared in a previous article, but it’s definitely worth sharing again.

Research published by the American Psychological Association concluded that frequently monitoring progress toward goals increases chance of success.

The study was mainly based on accomplishing wellness goals such as losing weight or quitting smoking.

The researchers recommend publicly reporting or physically recording your progress.

As an example, you could join a weight loss group and weigh yourself in front of your peers on a weekly basis.

Related: 63 Examples of Personal Goals in Life To Set In 2021

3. Surround yourself with trees

University of Illinois researchers found that when the schools of middle school students were surrounded by trees, test scores went up.

It confirmed hundreds of previous studies that have shown a link between nature contact and learning outcomes.

If trees can set sixth-graders up for success, one can only imagine what it can do for our own success.

Make an effort to be around nature to help boost your mood and energy to achieve what you desire.

Related: 5 Benefits of Being in Nature

4. Have positive relationships

A study done by the University of Missouri concluded that students with positive relationships with their teacher achieved higher grades.

The reason the researchers believe relationships improve student success is because positive attachments improve emotional regulation.

Relationships also make students more socially competent and willing to pursue challenging learning tasks.

Seek positive relationships to help increase your social confidence to help you create more success in school, work, and other areas of your life.

If you struggle with socializing, these articles might make it easier for you.

5. Build a variety of characteristics

University of Pennsylvania psychologist Angela Duckworth studied West Point cadets to discover the biggest predictor of who would succeed.

When it came to answering what factors predict success, the conclusion was that multiple factors predicted it.

G rit predicted whether cadets would persist through the challenges of becoming a cadet. Cognitive ability predicted whether cadets had academic success.

The takeaway is that we need to work on developing a variety of important character qualities in order to succeed.

Here are some characteristics that you can practice working on:

  • Grit
  • Cognitive ability
  • Positivity
  • Calmness
  • Creativity

Think of other good character qualities that you think you need to work on to help increase your chances of success.

6. Spend time with people who make you happy

Doubling down on the importance of positive relationships, a 75-year study Harvard study concluded the key to success is surrounding ourselves with people who make us happy

Problems with decline in wellness were more associated with people who felt lonely.

When we’re around people who make us happy, we have better brain function and reduced emotional and physical pain.

While relationships can be complicated at times, do your best to only be around people in your life that generally make you feel good.

7. Having a growth mindset

Stanford University researchers found that students who had a growth mindset were more likely to challenge themselves and believe they can have greater achievements.

Behavioral scientist K. Anders Ericcson argues that a growth mindset combined with deliberate practice is what leads people to be successful.

Develop a mindset of believing in yourself through using affirmations as encouragement.

Commit to setting daily and weekly goals to help you be more deliberate in regularly practicing and getting better at something.

8. Delaying gratification

If you’re unfamiliar with The Marshmallow Test, it was an experiment where children were shown a marshmallow.

They were told they could either eat it now or wait for a short time and have two. Some ate the marshmallows now while others resisted and had two later.

The interesting thing about this research is the lead researcher, behavioral scientist Walter Michel, followed up with the children as adults.

Those who were able to show self-control ended up performing better in school, earning more money, and were happier and had a better well-being.

If we choose to delay gratifying ourselves in favor of being patient, working hard, and sacrificing short-term pleasures, we can be more likely to achieve long-term success.

One caveat that should be mentioned is that a repeat of the marshmallow test experiment suggested socioeconomic factors may have played a more significant role.

Nonetheless, being able to be patient and think about our long-term future when it comes to the choices we make is important for success.

9. Be happier

University of California researchers concluded that those who are happier tend to have more success than those who aren’t.

The focus of their research related to the benefits of positive affect. Positive affect is defined as one’s propensity to experience positive emotions and deal with others and life’s challenges with positivity.

The study found that a combination of happiness and positive affect is an important part of what leads to us having success.

Work hard on trying to have a positive mental attitude when navigating the circumstances in your life.

Related: How to Be Happy in 2021 Based on 27 Scientific Studies

How to define success for yourself?

What is your personal definition of success

As mentioned earlier, the beginning of defining success for yourself is taking time to reflect on what you want in life.

We all have our own ideas of what’s meaningful, our own dreams, and our own aspirations we’d like to pursue.

If you close your eyes and visualize your future, it’s likely that some kind of picture can come to your mind.

For myself, I close my eyes and see myself living near beautiful nature, traveling places, and having enough to live a comfortable lifestyle.

If you can’t quite come to a specific idea for yourself yet, that’s fine. Contrary to what culture pushes us to believe, success isn’t a rat race.

Success is a journey that we each travel on at our own pace. And as you’ve hopefully learned after reading all of this, it’s not so much about achieving objective metrics.

It’s more about reaching a higher level of feeling overall happiness. Being mostly happy with your job, your relationships, and the direction you’re going.

When you look at being successful in that way, you’ll be more likely to achieve what you want in life and feel good about yourself.

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