How to Answer, “What Does Success Mean to You?”

Thoughts that might inspire you to find your own answer to "What does success mean to you?"


What does success mean to you?

If your name’s Collins, your answer is “the achievement of something that you have been trying to do.” Or if you’re Merriam-Webster, it’s a “favorable or desired outcome.”

But what if you’re not a strictly-by-the-book type of person?

Here are the core principles I considered for coming up with my own definition of success—something that I feel inspired to work toward.

Arrows in target

Success is setting predefined targets.

To use Warren Buffett’s analogy, success is not shooting an arrow into a blank canvas and then carefully drawing a bullseye around it.

A bullseye-drawer learns nothing from their errant attempts. Worse yet, they delude themselves into believing they can’t miss.

A bullseye-targeter learns from their mistakes, calibrates, and hones in. Or they learn that a particular bullseye is too tough to hit and pivot toward aiming for another. As comedian W.C. Fields is attributed with saying, “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. Then quit. There’s no use being a damn fool about it.”

Matsutake pine mushrooms

Success is finding your own patch.

If you look for it in well-known and easy-to-access locations, I’ll be in for a tussle with a lot of people to get your hands on scraps. It will be more fruitful to venture off the path to forage for your own patch.

Then once you unearth a little something wonderful, look around. Odds are you’ll find even more in that area.

Your life stock chart

Success is long-term investing.

Because of compounding, the sooner you get in the game, the better. But what game? Barely anyone knows early on in life, so diversify early on to understand the market, minimize risk, and gain experience while continuously growing.

Then steadily reallocate. Overcome your sunk cost biases to cut ties with underperformers and concentrate on your winners. Unlike on Wall Street, past performance is an indicator of future success.

There will always be bigger winners out there. But perpetually chasing after maximum profit will stress you out. And change is heavily taxing. So when you find a winner you have high conviction in, concentrate on it, and ride it for the long run.

Cart stock image

Success is coordination.

Whatever you seek success in is like a cart being pulled by a drove of donkeys. Each animal represents a division in your business or a component of your life (health, relationships, career, etcetera). If you direct one donkey toward a carrot in the east, another toward a carrot in the west, and put no carrots in front of others, your cart will go nowhere fast.

Better to bunch your carrots together, even if you’re not sure of your direction.

Playing music

Success is putting on the best performance you can.

Tastes differ, so no matter what you’re doing, your performance will sound horrible to some. But it’ll be beautiful music to others’ ears.

It’s up to you to find the right feedback. Turn your ear that way and use it to push yourself to perform the best you can given your circumstances.

Since you have no objective scoreboard, the best you can do to measure your progress is to compare your current performance to your past. So periodically record and review. This preserves your records and prevents tone-deaf delusion.

Having fun with friends

Success is having fun.

If you take your pursuit of success too seriously, you may get there eventually but will miss out on enjoying it along the way.

And then what?

So whatever success means to you, find as many milestones and inch-pebbles as you can to celebrate. And find a jolly crew of people to share the adventure with.

My Definition of Success

Bringing everything together, I suppose this is my answer to “What does success mean to you?”:

Success is having a wonderful adventure doing the best I can to move in a focused direction toward ever-moving targets that I set for myself.

What about you?

If your definition of success is similar to mine, let’s get after it together. I send a quick, fresh, fun “Consider This” email every 7 to 14 days with a new challenge to push myself, you, and thousands of fellow subscribers in a successful direction.

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About the author

👋 I'm Chris. Everything you read on is my fault. This site is like a gym for your comfort zone, full of challenges to make your status quo sexier. Join my 'Consider This' newsletter for a fun new challenge every 10 days. Try it!

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The Zag shares my adventures off of the boring beaten paths of life and ideas for finding your own unfollowable path.