My life is not perfect, but I do feel a deep sense of accomplishment. I feel that I am now living the life I have always dreamed of, but never believed was possible for me. My work as a wellness coach keeps me connected to an amazing community of people who all share the common goal of personal growth. I deeply believe in the work that I do, and I pour my heart into it. I am constantly working to learn and do more as a psychologist, yogi, and human being. I feel that I have a great balance between work and life. I have time for leisure and physical activity, which keeps me energized and focused. I might not make as much money as I possibly could, but I am rich in many other ways. I still have many big dreams and goals for projects I would like to complete, but ultimately, I feel a deep sense of fulfillment. To me, this is success.
What does success look like for you? We’ve all been exposed to certain ideals about how much money successful people make, what kinds of cars they drive or brands of clothing they buy, where they live, how many children they have, what they accomplish, etc. But we often fail to define this for ourselves. How do you know when you have “arrived” at success? It’s easy to consider superficial markers: we know we have “made it” when we have our own office or when we can afford to buy a house. The tricky thing about these superficial milestones is that, often by the time we have arrived, we already have our eyes set on the next milestone to obtain. This can become an endless pursuit, resulting in the feeling of never being able to do or have enough to be satisfied .
When it comes to defining success, it appears that the times are changing. A review of the research finds that newer generations (e.g., GenX and GenMe) consider work as less of a central focus of their lives and they care more about leisure time compared to Baby Boomers and Silent Generations . One study found that, regardless of generations, people who claim to be satisfied with their careers are perceived to be the most successful . Satisfaction, however, is highly subjective. Goals are related to fundamental human values. Research finds that basic human values are also evolving across generations, such that newer generations place greater importance on self-enhancement and openness to change .
Now more than ever, there is more freedom in how we define success. By defining success more holistically, it becomes more attainable and sustainable. Letting go of other peoples’ rules, we can ground our definition by considering what really matters to us.
What is the legacy you would like to leave behind?
Perhaps success is less about material acquisitions and more about time. How can we use our time to live a meaningful and satisfying life?
Perhaps success is something we can find in each moment. For me, success is any time kindness and compassion win over jealousy, greed, or anger.
As we consider our unique definitions for this question, it is important to note that the question itself should remain alive. As time passes and situations change, our needs and desires also change. As we evolve and mature, we might gain a deeper understanding of ourselves, which may nurture new aspirations. Let’s just give ourselves permission to define success in a way that feels authentic and true for us. Why abide by someone else’s definition of success? As long as we stay honest with ourselves and actively engaged in our pursuits, we are on the path to success, personal satisfaction, and wellbeing.
1. Frederick, S., & Loewenstein, G. (1999). Hedonic Adaptation. In D. Kahneman, E. Diener, N. Schwarz. (Eds), Well-Being: The Foundations of Hedonic Psychology (pp. 302-329). New York: Russell Sage
2. Twenge, J. M. (2010). A review of the empirical evidence on generational differences in work attitudes. Journal of Business and Psychology, 25, 201-210.
3. Dries, N., Pepermans, R., & De Kerpel, E. (2008). Exploring four generations' beliefs about career: Is “satisfied” the new “successful?” Journal of Managerial Psychology, 23, 907-928.
4. Lyons, S. T., Duxbury, L., & Higgins, C. (2007). An empirical assessment of generational differences in basic human values. Psychological Reports, 101, 339-352.