How Do You Define Success?

Blogger and novelist John Scalzi wrote a moving piece this past winter titled “How I Knew I’d Made It,” about … well, the moment he knew he was doing pretty well in his career. He says it was when he bought a tank of gas and didn’t worry about how much it cost. Just being able to fill up and know that whether he was spending on gas today didn’t really matter. He finally had the cash flow to not be constantly worried about overdrafts.

It reminded me that financial and professional success mean different things to different people.

For example, I once met a financial advisor who worked with people who were already pretty well off. He said almost all of his clients came to him with a goal of increasing their net worth by about 10%. If they had a million dollars, they wanted 1.1 million. If they had a hundred million, they wanted a hundred and ten. The implication is that most people aren’t ever satisfied with the amount of money they have. Just being rich, in other words, doesn’t necessarily equal “success.”

But, if having enough money isn’t the definition of success, what is? And how do you know when you’ve achieved it?

I asked my friends on Facebook what they thought. Here are some of the responses.

My brother, an MBA, agrees with Scalzi. He says success means having enough money to avoid hassles:

“Financial success lets you push problems to the side. The more money you have, the less you have to put up with.”

A neighbor who volunteers actively, in addition to her work at an architecture firm:

“I don’t think you need to be a billionaire to be successful. To me it’s about finding a healthy balance in all aspects of your life (love, work, family, health, diet, friends, etc.)”

A former co-worker who’s moved to New York to make it big in marketing:

“Success for me means ‘I’m in my element,’ which translates to:

    1. I’ve achieved a goal.

    2. The goal that was achieved provided me with a greater sense of purpose, drive, and life satisfaction.”

A friend of my parents (who has held numerous jobs throughout her life and has no intention of retiring):

“A successful life is where you live in harmony with yourself and others, where you manage to meet your own expectations, where your occupation suits your abilities yet allows you to earn enough money to do what is important to you.”

My cousin, a manager at a large hardware store:

“If I could figure out what success was, I’d be able to figure out what I’m supposed to be aiming for. And I probably wouldn’t be in retail.”

My high school English teacher:

“You wake up in the morning looking forward to the day, and you feel you are growing. Both are important.”

As for my own thoughts on financial success: to me it means having enough money to take care of my family and save for the future—but I try to remember that financial success isn’t the same thing as overall success.

What does success mean to you? Share your perspective in the comments.

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