Your Definition of Success

In our previous article we discussed how an MBA has changed our definition of success.  Our goals have been narrowed and focused with an underlying idea that we needed to raise expectations of what we could accomplish in life.

In this article we are taking the attention off us and placing it on you.

Specifically, how you can define success for your life.

How to Define Success for You

Matt: Success is one of those large questions that many people don’t want to admit they think about.  It can hover over us as we see others doing things we want to accomplish.  Yet, what we see is the external and not internal.  

Those people we look at could be struggling through life in a way we could not imagine or maybe they would look at you and be envious of your lifestyle.  The key is to not look towards others for success and instead define it yourself.  

Most people place too much emphasis on money and instead should refocus to think of experiences.  What life experiences would you like to have?  

When you know the answer then you can determine how much money you need to attain that lifestyle.  

“Success is peace of mind which is a direct result of self-satisfaction in knowing you did your best to become the best you are capable of becoming.” ~ John Wooden.  

Most of us would be more fulfilled with less money and feel successful if we really sat and thought of the life we wanted to live.  Then it would be financial budgeting to figure out what is needed to get there.

Below is an exercise to try.

I view success and your purpose as working together; therefore, when you know your purpose success will follow.  To find your purpose I have combined advice from two of my favorite authors: Jim Collins and Mark Batterson.

Starting with Collins, he lays out three questions individuals can ask themselves.

  • First, “what are you deeply passionate about?”  There is an easy mental exercise to recognize passions in your life.  Think about anything you enjoy and then write down your immediate and honest reactions.  Simply, think about different aspects of your life and write down your responses, your passions will become apparent.  
  • Second, “what drives your economic engine?”  This question has to be taken seriously and is the one that many people ignore.  Essentially, what will others pay you to do?  Your passions are important, however, if you can’t make money doing them, then that is not your overall purpose.  As you answer the three questions from Collins, it is important to understand that all the answers must connect.  Write what you have been paid to do and what you believe, with the proper training, you would be paid to do.
  • Third, “what can you be the best at the world at?”  Here is another question to really take some time to answer and be honest.  I have taken this question to not necessarily mean you are the single best at a specific profession, and instead ask what can you be world class at?  Can you be one of the best venture capitalists, entrepreneurs, marketers, CEOs, financial advisors, etc.? 

It can be challenging to answer the three questions, and before moving to determining your purpose and idea of success I want to turn to Mark Batterson.  He has written many books and one of his quotes has always stayed with me, “a change of pace plus a change of place equals a change of perspective.”  

The idea is that in order to answer tough questions or when you are going through transition it is a good idea to remove yourself from your normal routine to truly reflect.

If the above three questions cannot be answered then take some time to go somewhere: camping, another city, the beach, the park, or somewhere you enjoy yet is not part of your normal schedule.  Take time off from work if needed, even if for just a day to change your pace of life.  In this setting answer the three questions.

When you have clear answers look for patterns.  Your purpose and idea of success will connect your passions, something that pays, and a profession where you can be the best in the world.  Connecting the three questions will take time, yet the time is well worth it as you will have a clear understanding of your definition of success.

Alejandro: Given what was discussed in our previous article, there are several things I have accepted regarding success. The first is the definition will be in constant change, so you have to learn to be flexible. With time your mindsets and ways to see the world will change, and you will give value to different things in each stage of your life.

The second, and probably most important, is to accept that success must be individualized. If what you think, feel, and do are in line then you are on the path of success.

Developing flexibility

This exercise will help you understand that you are closer to your dreams than what you think and that your fears are not so bad as you think.  I learned this exercise thanks to Dustin Peterson’s book, RESET: How to Get Paid and Love What You Do. You have to build a budget for two scenarios:

  • Best Case: Build a monthly budget of the life you dream about. Put everything in there: house payment, monthly payment of the car or cars you would like, vacations, services, clothes, insurance, personal chef, etc. Find out how much it will cost you, on a per month basis, to live your dream life. You will find out that it is possible and that you are probably not that far away from achieving it. Make it all about what you want.
  • Worst Case: Image the worst case scenario. You lose your job, can’t find another good-paying job, and you have to move back with your family. Make the budget taking into account your most basic needs. Probably food, insurance, gas, etc. The minimum requirements. Once you see the number you will understand you can survive no matter what, your fears of poverty are not as bad as you think. Here is all about what you need, not what you want.  

Individualized Growth

Another great methodology I learned is the TruGoals Setting method, by TruCore. It helped me realize that success is constant and individualized growth, as I’ve mention before. But it has to be done in a balanced way. We’ve heard so many times of stories about very “successful” people, in terms of career and money, but have sacrificed health or family in the journey.

I’ve learned that success is a wheel made by different areas, and that a successful life is one that runs smoothly. It doesn’t mean that there will not be obstacles, it means that there is a balance in all the areas of your life. If you grow too much in one area the wheel will start to have bumps and the journey will not be a smooth one.

Here is a picture that can help you understand what I am describing:

Photo Source

Success is constant growth in at least one of these areas:

  • Career
  • Family & Friends
  • Relationship
  • Fun & Recreation
  • Health
  • Money
  • Personal Growth
  • Physical Environment

And it has to be in a balanced way, so that the wheel runs smoothly. You cannot grow simultaneously in all areas. Your focus has to shift from time to time so that you pay attention to the areas the may be lagging. And that way you bring everything to a balance. If you are currently in an MBA program it means that career will probably be your main focus. Doing so for at least 2-5 years will enable you to then grow in other areas.

If you liked the concept of the Wheel of Life, take a look at this article that will guide you so that you can do a self assessment.


What is your definition of success? How have you been able to achieve it? We would love to hear about your methodologies to keep learning and sharing.

Feel free to reach out to me and Alejandro if you would like to work on your personal definition of success.

Alejandro I. Sanoja & Matt Avery