What is success? I bet if you asked that question to a hundred different people, you’d get a hundred different answers. Success means something different to different people, so the real question is, how do YOU define success? What does being successful mean to you?
Dictionary Definition of Success
The dictionary definition of success is “One that succeeds”. Well, that’s helpful, isn’t it? Another definition, that might be a little more helpful, is “a favorable or desired outcome”. I can get on board with that one!
But the third definition is the ominous one, the one folks tend to think of when they think of success “the attainment of wealth, favor, or eminence” and unfortunately, it’s the wealth part that tends to stand out. And that’s because, in our weird world of money before everything, the definition of success seemed to morph from getting a favorable outcome to being wealthy. Tons of people relate success to not only financial well-being, but incredible wealth and riches.
I don’t think that’s the best way to define success.
Do We Need to be Wealthy to be Successful?
That probably sounds like a strange question, coming from a finance blogger. Success, wealth, riches, and all the things that go with it are what we should strive for, right?
Money is great, but it’s not the end all be all. Money is just a tool that helps us do the things we want to do. Acquiring tons of money doesn’t necessarily equate to success.
You can be successful in a variety of different aspects of your life without being rich. You can attain career success, family success and just life success in general. These things aren’t about money or wealth or riches, and I think it’s high time that we redefined what it means to be successful.
It’s easiest to see the disconnect between wealth and success when we look at careers.
How Do You Define Career Success?
Being at the top of your career sounds amazing, doesn’t it? A lot of people assume that being at the top of your field means wealth and riches, but that’s not actually the case. Many folks who are experts in their fields don’t even make six figures. If it’s a career that they are truly passionate about, the money doesn’t matter as much.
Do you think teachers define success by how much money they bring in, or by how many kids they inspire? Are scientists successful when they make millions, or when they have a breakthrough discovery? Is an artist successful because he sold a painting, or because he finally painted a masterpiece? Do firemen care more about making money, or saving lives? The examples of successful careers that don’t lead to riches can go on and on.
As these examples prove, career success is about far more than money. It’s about landing your dream job, regardless of how much it pays. It’s also about helping people, learning things, or making a difference in the world. Not all these things lead to riches, but they can lead to a rich life.
Successful Career and Money
That’s not to say no careers lead to wealth and riches. Some careers actually do define success by the amount of money you make. There’s nothing wrong with that, if that’ s your goal. Financial services, sales, law and technology are industries where you can make a ton of money in your career, if that’s what you’re striving to achieve.
There are careers that combine the two. Doctors make a ton of money, and they also help people. Some artists, like actors and musicians, can get rich by following their dreams and living their passions. If you are lucky enough to be passionate about something that society values enough to pay well, you can have the best of both worlds.
How Do You Define Financial Success?
A lot of people define success with financial success alone. But financial success doesn’t have to mean attaining a ton of wealth.
I’m not going to lie; I fell into the trap. I wanted to be a millionaire by the time I turned 30. But why? I don’t even know. I wanted to be a millionaire so I could say I was one – because I thought that was the epitome of success.
Now that I’m older, I know that isn’t the case. I don’t need a ton of money to be financially successful. All I need is enough money to be able to support myself.
The amount of money required for financial success is different for everyone, depending on their situation. People with families will probably want to build generational wealth, so that their progeny can have financially successful lives.
To me, financial success is mostly about having enough money to be able to do the things I want to do, and ensuring that I’m not destitute at any point in my life. None of that takes millions of dollars, but it does take planning, budgeting, saving, investing, and making good financial choices. A lot of that can be done on an average salary.
What is the True Meaning of Success?
We’ve talked about career success, and financial success, but are either of those the true meaning of success? I don’t think so. I think the true meaning of success is life success. A successful life is one where you are happy, joyful and content. Going back to the original definition, it’s when your life had a desired or favorable outcome. And what makes our lives favorable? What is the key to a desired outcome?
In a word – happiness.
Being happy is the key to a successful life, more so than money, financial gain, status, or anything else. But what does it take to be happy?
I can’t answer that for you. The truth is, happiness is different for everyone. Some people may find joy in a fulfilling career that they are passionate about. Others may attain happiness by being a parent; raising children and grandchildren to be productive members of society. Everyone has different goals, dreams, passions, and aspirations, so achieving true happiness is different for everyone.
But I can tell you what doesn’t equate to happiness, and that’s money. Money doesn’t buy happiness. What money can buy you is options, and those options can give you the opportunity to pursue happiness for yourself.
How Do You Define Success for Yourself?
What are your thoughts on the definition of success? Do you think success is about how much money you have in the bank, or do you think there’s more to it than that?
I’d love to hear your thoughts on success in the comments!
Melanie launched Partners in Fire in 2017 to document her quest for financial independence with a mix of finance, fun, and solving the world’s problems. She’s self educated in personal finance and passionate about fighting systematic problems that prevent others from achieving their own financial goals. She also loves travel, anthropology, gaming and her cats.