Measuring Success

2009 May 13
by Grace Boyle

What entails success?

I’ve been reading about this a lot. I’ve been thinking about it even more. I have friends in many different occupations, some make a lot of money, some make barely enough to eat.

So let’s start by defining success. The best definition I’ve come across is from writer John Watson: “Success is the completion of anything intended.” I will say it right off the bat, this fits the billing. To each their own.

I have a close friend who graduated college with a Sociology degree and was never really sure what she wanted to do. It’s not that she lacked direction, she just didn’t think conventionality fit with her. She was however, fluent in Spanish and has found a passion in traveling and international culture. She recently left for the Peace Corps in Costa Rica. She is going to spend three years of her life devoting her time to a cause, people and an idea.  She’s not going to be making or saving any money (true), but she will be sustaining a passion and lifestyle. She will be living, how she knows best. I think this is her success.

I have another friend who has been a piano teacher for years. She has a deep love for music and has been teaching piano lessons out of her home. In this case, she can’t “climb a ladder” where traditional businesses may give this opportunity. She is however, able to work with children (she is 45, never had any of her own) and to play music daily. Her lessons remain the same, she might charge a little more as her experience has grown, but she teaches piano lessons. Plain and simple and she is satisfied. I think this is her success.

Myself, I’m in a business setting. Although it’s not corporate, it’s a startup and I know within business devlopment, marketing and public relations there are steps of growth necessary to move upward and onward. Success to me, is not through the monetary growth (although yes, in all honesty, that’s a milestone of growth) but the passion and experience that fuels me.

John Wooden the famed basketball hall of fame Coach for UCLA recently spoke at TED on true success. He spoke about wrestling over the idea of winning and success and where they intersected. He defines success as “peace of mind attained only through self satisfaction and knowing you made the effort of which you’re capable.”

Success is a perception based reality. I am speaking broadly here, not just within the blogosphere or my work at a startup, but for individual success. No matter what you’re doing.

Richard St. John’s book, 8 To Be Great: The 8 Traits that Lead to Great Success outlines distinct traits through his seven years of research and 500 interviews. This list for success entails: passion, work, good, focus, push, serve, ideas and persist.

There are varying levels of success and then even sub-set levels of success depending on the person, genre, social construct, location and belief system. I’m still hashing through it, but I think I’m seeing the light.

Success can be broad but in the end, it’s completing what you set out to do and that you made the effort, to the best of your ability. Don’t treat failure or error as a permanent road block to success. If anything, I believe the road blocks  enable us to push forward and succeed.

So I’m curious, how do you define success?

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  • Jamie

    1) Welcome to WordPress!

    2) I love that you brought up defining success for yourself. Because it's so true. We can't say someone is successful, while another person is not. Our only gauge of success is our own.

    And, personally, I find that freeing. I find that it means I work on my own path without a bunch of distractions because this is MY way to success, not anyone else's.

    I think in blogging and Twitter a lot of us share a common success goal. We want more readers to our blog or to be a full time writer or to be an entrepreneur. These are VERY common goals on the internet, but outside of the internet, people are successes in much different ways. Some are successful being parents or husband and wife or wife and wife or farming or making cheese or what not.

    As I was typing that, it made me realize that I haven't been thinking past the internet in terms of success. Thanks for writing this – you brought a new perspective to me! Success! 😉

  • Grace Boyle

    @Jamie Success! Glad I could shed some light and thanks for welcoming me to the WordPress club!

    As I was reading your post on success and then thinking about it, I felt really overwhelmed. There are so many levels to success and once I cut out all the opposing opinions, I realized that it's perception based. Whether you're a mom of 5 or you make cheese, more power to you. If it's an internal success you've reached and felt on your own, then therein lies your own level of success.

  • sameve

    Success definitely means different things to different people. I wrote a post a while back about the relationship between success and happiness, and I got some pretty interesting responses. Most people felt that happiness must either come first, or is independent of success. For me, success comes from personal fulfillment and achievement, and is often the result of a lot of hard work. When I have overcome challenges and obstacles, persevered and accomplished something, that is success. I agree that we should not see failure or error as merely road blocks, but use them to motivate us. This is a great post!

  • Matthew

    Grace – this is a great post. I rarely do this, but I'm going to quote myself here – on a post I wrote a couple months ago titled 'Do It. Or Do Nothing?':

    Maybe it’s not about competing – but instead, about realizing your own inner potential. We are better than we think we are – each of us has something to offer. Where do you think the industry leaders started? It all starts with an idea, and from there, shaking off the fear of failure and just doing it.

    We all measure success in different ways. To me, it's very personal – I set goals for myself and do everything I can to meet and exceed these goals. While it's inevitable that we're going to compare ourselves to others, far too often, we ask ourselves 'How will I ever be as great as XXX person'. We put ourselves against the best, and while that's not necessarily a bad thing, it shouldn't be about focusing on how to be better than everyone who has come before us. It should be about figuring out who we are and what we have to offer that no one else does. Once we realize our uniqueness, greatness will follow.

  • Grace Boyle

    @Matt Thanks for your kind words and thanks for sharing your quote from a blog post, very interesting. I really like how you talked about comparing yourself to other people. In this post, I didn't really mention that but I think that although it serves as a source of motivation (sometimes) I don't think it's important. I don't think we have to constantly run alongside someone else, to find our own success is inherent of who we are.

  • Grace Boyle

    @Sam Which came first, the chicken or the egg? What an age-old argument that people go in circles about, over and over. It's the same with happiness and success. I think instead of thinking about that argument (people get very heated) it's important to step outside of that and focus on what works for you. You clearly know your definition of success and that is half the battle. Thanks for sharing!

  • Akhila

    Hey Grace! Sorry haven't had a chance to comment on this post though I have been meaning to for a while. Loved this post, absolutely loved it. Because it's something I've been thinking about lately too — I concluded that, yes, everyone's version of success is different. You can either try to conform to everyone else's vision of success, or your own. If you are doing the first, it's pretty much guaranteed you will NEVER be happy or truly fulfilled, because everyone has different views of success and you will never feel successful “enough” because you'll always have critics.

    The best thing is to live for yourself and do whatever makes you happy, makes you feel successful, and allows you to do what you are passionate about. Passion leads to success.

  • Grace Boyle

    @Akhila Oh no worries, best thing about blogs is that the post exists forever 😉 It's good to hear your version and that if you try to find success through someone else or their “idea” of success, it just won't work for you. I think it's beautiful that you said, “passion leads to success,” and like I said it can be teaching piano lessons or being a VP of a company. Success is relative to the individual.

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  • heartbot

    Accomplishing my own goals and living up to my own expectations.

  • Grace Boyle

    Expectations–very important. I think it's a great ingredient to the mix of finding personal success.

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  • graham gunningham

    Maybe im being a bit vague here but i measure sucess in happiness.

    If im happy then whether i have failed or succeeded really matters

  • Grace Boyle

    @Graham No, you're not being vague. Success does equal happiness for many people and happiness is measured differently.

  • Grace Boyle

    @Graham No, you're not being vague. Success does equal happiness for many people and happiness is measured differently.

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  • Rajasww

    Success to me is defined as – “How many people are better of in the world because you lived”. I do that by telling myself you can not control when you are born and when you are going to die. However the dash (-) in between is in your control. What impact are you making every day to how many people. The income you make is proportional to how many people are impacted for the better by you!

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