What Success Really Means

Is it money, fame, awards, rewards, a nice haircut, a well-behaved dog? What is it that we're all going after?

What does "success" really mean?

The Meaning of Success

If I were to start this article out as Michael Scott, I might suggest that the top two definitions of success are:

  1. the favorable or prosperous termination of attempts or endeavors; the accomplishment of one's goals.
  2. the attainment of wealth, position, honors, or the like.

Sure, so success means achieving a goal. We all knew that part. But that's only part — there's something missing:

Goals serve success, not determine it.

The Byproduct of Success

What makes a job or a career successful? Money, title, fame, awards, rewards, ownership, autonomy, vacation time?

What makes a relationship successful? Happy spouse, successful children, well-behaved dog, not having a cat?

What makes a diet/exercise successful? Losing the target weight, changing belt loops or pants sizes, being able to run a mile?

No. That's not entirely correct. Those things listed above are byproducts of success, not success itself.

The Real Meaning of Success

Look, we are selfish beings. That's just how we're wired. There's no way around it and that's okay. We can be selfish and still be kind. We can be selfish and still be charitable, and empathetic, and nurturing.

All any of us really want is to be happy. Everything we do is in some way built to serve that feeling.

We go after money because it will lead to a more comfortable life. We want our spouse to be happy because it's more fun to be around someone who is happy. We want to wear smaller pants because it will boost our self esteem.

In many cases, the thing that leads to happiness must also include others. Giving to charity, going to dinner at your partner's top pick, skipping happy hour to spend time with your kids, volunteering for a local non-profit. These are things we think we do for others, but we do them because they, in turn, provide us the best arrangement of happiness we can muster. And again, that's totally okay. Actually, it's more than okay. It's great!

Using selfishness to create more good in the world is an incredible human achievement.

That's what success really means.

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