What is Success?

By | July 20, 2020

[July 20, 2020]  Nearly every article I write in my leadership blog, I used the word “success.”  Yet, I never define it, nor do I spend any effort to explain what I mean.  If you are like me, we assume the other person implicitly understands and agrees with our criteria for success.  Most of us, those who live and work in our communities, have a shared system of similar core values.  Thus, when we talk about success, we can be confident that others agree with what we say.

The problem, however, is that this agreement is often not the case.  Talking about success can be tricky and full of surprises when others don’t have the same priorities or values.  For example, my idea of success in life means having a large family, regular access to visit them, and getting along well with each.  I’ve discovered that many do not want a family, and some younger people think that a family is too restrictive and full of responsibilities they do not wish to.

Success means purposefully achieving something desirable.  Thus, there must first be a goal or an aim.  And second, there must also be a plan or pathway to attain that goal.  If we do not have a goal or if the purpose is vaguely defined, that person is avoiding life and will not be satisfied with anything of value.  This is why, in this article, we cannot write the definition of success.  We can discuss the idea of success, nevertheless, and put markers on what might be considered successful.

Leaders, with a mission (a goal or aim), should ensure there are criteria for what it takes to be successful.  As a salesperson, achieving a specific amount of sales as measured in money would be an appropriate measure of success.  But, would making the boss happy be a measure of success for the salesperson?  It could be.  I will argue that it should be a measure.  I base my judgment on what the criteria for success upon what others have done and what those above me in the meritocracy value most.

And, let’s not confuse an “accomplishment” with the concept of success.  An accomplishment refers to an outcome from a plan.  “Success” is a positive consequence or outcome of a series of achieved accomplishments.  This is not splitting of hairs.  Thus, they are closely related. Success is imbued with the value of the result and over a specified time.

In summary, success means 1) clearly setting goals, 2) defining a specific way to reach those goals, and 3) the consequence of achieving them.  This is hard.  When we set goals and ways to accomplish them, we will inevitably experience failure, and we don’t like failure.  Many of us will stop setting goals and simply drift through our lives, living in blissful ignorance.  Sadly, this is encouraged all too well.

Author: Douglas R. Satterfield

Hello. I'm Doug and I provide at least one article every day on some leadership topic. I welcome comments and also guests who would like to write an article. Thanks for reading my blog.

16 thoughts on “What is Success?

  1. Billy Kenningston

    There is no mold or equation for success as it is defined differently for everyone. To achieve it, one should use their strengths and values, while recognizing that obstacles and setbacks are also a part of the process.

  2. Eric Coda

    The opposite of success is failure as it means to fail while trying to achieve aims or objectives. Besides this regular definition of failure it also can be said that even wealthy and successful persons fail in their lives.

    1. Max Foster

      Eric, I do believe you are correct. Studying what it means to ‘fail’ and then learning from failure is a huge part of being successful. The average person doesn’t go around with a target on their back that says ‘kick me, I’m stupid.’ So, we should then articulate what our goals are and how we plan to go about achieving them. Then, studying how we could do it better.

  3. The Kid 1945

    Once you have figured out what is important for you personally you are able to focus on your visions and goals.

  4. Ed Berkmeister

    The only person that can answer the question above is you. I am neither able nor willing to prescribe the ultimate definition of success, as this is not possible. Every person is thinking differently about being prosperous in life and is defining success in another way, so there can’t exist a definition that is suitable for all.

    1. Greg Heyman

      Yes Ed, it is very important that you know exactly how to define success in life!

  5. Willie Shrumburger

    Quotable quote, “Success means purposefully achieving something desirable. “

  6. Shawn C. Stolarz

    Well written, Gen. Satterfield. Too many people fear goal setting in their lives. I did that too, long ago. I was adrift, suicidal, lacked any self consciousness of worth, and hated my family and myself. When I finally got up the courage, I set some simple, short-term goals and got them accomplished. After that, I set bigger and more important goals and developed ways to get there. Over a long period of time, I because very “successful” in life (family, friends, good job, belong to a good church, etc). And, I’m active now in my community and am helping make a difference.

    1. Kenny Foster

      Shawn, if only more people did this, we would all be better off. The most important thing is goal setting such that those goals are precise, clearly articulated, and achievable. Then we can work on the “how” to get there.

    2. Bart Rhodes

      Excellent comment and story, Shawn. Well done and thanks for sharing some of your life with us.

  7. Army Captain

    A bit odd as an article but I think I got it but only after reading your blog post three times. Thanks.

  8. Randy Goodman

    Interesting article today, Gen. Satterfield.

    1. JT Patterson

      Yep, you got that right Randy. Just because we find it “interesting” or “a bit odd” doesn’t mean that we should reject or accept the reasoning without some thought. I like this leadership blog for exactly this reason. Too many find it EASY to read and entertaining. I read it because it makes me THINK.

      1. Scotty Bush

        Good points JT and I appreciate your perspective on theLeaderMaker.com website. We all have something to gain and making us think is one of them I find the most valuable.

    2. Eva Easterbrook

      Just another reason to keep coming back to this leadership blog. I challenge anyone to find another one better that has daily articles and down-to-earth articles that can be consumed quickly.

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