How Do You Define Success?

How Do You Define Success?

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I've notice a common question in a job interview is, “Where do you see yourself in five years?” Given the context, most potential employers probably want to know your professional goals and assume that you want to be successful at your job by advancing through the ranks. January 2014 will mark my five-year anniversary at my current job and will also mark the longest that I’ve ever worked at one place.

So it got me thinking about whether or not I've accomplished what I had hoped to during the last five years. Turns out that actually led to a bigger question about how I was defining success overall. So when I found this article on, I thought it was worth taking a look at how I was thinking about success five years ago. The author offers three questions to ask so that our definition of success is more than just the number on a paycheck or driving a nice car:

“1. What is success to you? When I discussed this question recently with some friends, we all approached our answer differently. I redefined success as 'a simple and local life that is professionally-exciting, relationally-connected and spiritually-inspired.'

"Here were some additional pieces of the definitions that came out of our time: 'No matter the income, my work has a sense of purpose and progress.' 'My wife has life in her eyes and my kids are emotionally empowered.' 'The time and geographic location to foster relationships with people who challenge, encourage and inspire me, and of whom I can reciprocate the same.'

"2. Why do you want this brand of success? When we inherit our ideas of success, we are often pushed by fear or what we feel is expected of us. When we define it for ourselves, we can be drawn onward by purpose and vision, which is ultimately more powerful.

"Again, here are some examples I’ve come across in recent conversations with friends: 'For the time and energy to invest into my family and friends.' 'To offer my wife and children the opportunity to fully experience and enjoy life: education, international exposure, skill training, adventures.' 'To take care of friends and family with finances, quality time, a safe place, life wisdom.' 'For independence from "the system" and freedom of choice.'

"3. What’s one thing you’re willing to give up for this brand of success? Answering this question helps you identify that resistance, put a target on it and in essence, overcome it before you’ve even begun.

"Recent examples I’ve heard include: 'Obsession with working too much.' 'Fear of criticism and preference for hiddenness.' 'Need for security and financial control.' 'Finding my identity in what I do.'” 

I tend to think about my accomplishments as either professional (a certain salary, job title, developing specific skills in my field) or personal (getting married, training for a race, paying off student loans) but I was challenged to think about success more relationally. How should I define success in my relationship with my family? What does it mean to be successful in my friendships with my married friends? Or with my church involvement?

From a relational or spiritual standpoint, how do you define success? 

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  • --As a guy, I definitely feel the pressure to succeed at work. If I'm honest about my heart, my definition of success is having a job that I'm happy to go into every morning and proud to tell people I have. It's obviously got to cover the bills, but I'm used to living on $10,000/year or so, which means that pretty much any job will cover the bills. I'm turning 25 soon, and while I have almost no student debt, I've accomplished that by taking time off of school to work a couple times. I'm also unmarried, and while I'm not exactly feeling forever alone, I'm pretty sure I'm gifted with singleness at least for a while. If I land a great job and start working my way up in the company, at least I'll have something to point to, and I won't feel like all my talent and potential is going to waste.

    If I'm not careful though, that's a recipe for ending up very alone, and not just romantically. James Dean was cool, but today is the 58th anniversary of his death in a horrible car accident. Everything you and I have can be taken from us in an instant. Am I living to please God, or am I living to please man? No matter what it looks like, there is no better place to be in life than exactly where God has you.

  • --@GrinAndBarret: I feel the same need to have a successful career. Unlike you, I am loaded to the brim with student debt, but I think that living off an annual salary around $20,000 would be success enough. I have always found trouble finding work, and I am going on 30, so just having a full-time job that keeps up a decent living will suffice. I once defined success as having enough money for a two-story pink house on the outer parts of town, two nice cars, a wife, a few children, and a dog (or two), but now I would be content with a full-time job, a studio apartment in the city, one reasonable car, no wife or children, and no pets. I don't need a lot of personal space, and I have honestly never cared much about having a family in the first place. I also buy store-brand groceries when possible and appreciate public transportation. To me, success is landing that first full-time job that utilizes one's college skills and making enough to get by.

  • --"'To offer my wife and children the opportunity to fully experience and enjoy life: education, international exposure, skill training, adventures.' 'To take care of friends and family with finances, quality time, a safe place, life wisdom.' 'For independence from "the system" and freedom of choice.'"

    To me those things above seem to indicate a comfortable paycheck, just maybe phrasing in a way that doesn't sound so materialistic (but still is, in my opinion).

  • --To me success is to live a life for God. How that will play out in the future I have no idea...... that's kinda my problem right now. :P

  • --Right now professional success would be earning a paycheck, gaining more work experience, and having money to save, pay the majority of my own bills, and give more.

    I'm not sure what relational success looks like, but having good boundaries is definitely a essential part of it. I seem to be a magnet for really codependent people. I have gotten better at setting boundaries, but it is hard since my Christian upbringing taught the opposite. I have a number of healthy friendships now, but I would like to be closer to them. It is hard for me to be vulnerable or ask for things because I don't want to risk being a burden to others.

    Spiritual success. I've noticed that for the last two months, I have been sincerely glad to go to church, I am mentally present the whole time, and I try to put what I learn into practice. This is a huge difference from the past. I think it helped taking some time off and then finding a church that I can attend and give money to without going against my conscience. It is easier to have my own relationship with God now that my family and university are no longer shoving us together.

    I still have a lot of spiritual questions, but I feel more at peace about it, that I don't have to have everything figured out RIGHT NOW! It's going to take time, and some things I will never know for sure, but that's okay.        

  • --The way we drive ourselves to our chosen destination, in themidst of life's heavy traffic of challenges, come out better than where we came from, WITHOUT LOSING OUR BEING  such as SPIRIT, SOUL AND BODY - is what I call a success... in Jesus because He is the only Way, the Truth and the Life.

  • --Spiritually, I define it as being able to look back and viewing faithfulness and increased holiness. Looking forward, I would like to see plans for such. Plans and choices in life that reflect God's principles and faith in his promises.

  • --Success: setting a goal, and completing it in the manner intended. So, rather, the question becomes, what goals do I set for myself?

    For what I want to see in my own marriage, at least) as 1) sticking with him no matter what 2) giving him all the love and time I can, and demonstrating m love in ways that communicate love to him 3) not taking frustration out on him 4) enabling him to pursue his life goals, etc. For my professional life, my goal is to become a caring and competent surgeon; the tangibles are more easily measured here in terms of morbidity and mortality and sometimes 'patient satisfaction surveys', but the intangible relationships and differences in peoples' lives can't be measured or well defined.

    For my spiritual life, goals include regular church attendance, prayer, tithing as behavioral goals and charity, grace and humility as character striving.

    As an aside, what does "emotionally empowered" even mean, anyway? I think that defining goals and contemplating success - and true priorities in life - are important processes; however, I thought the original article was overwrought and filled with hipster derived, emotive, and posturing language. "Simple and local life that is professionally-exciting, relationally-connected and spiritually-inspired," indeed.:-)

  • --True success is when you can stand before God and be unashamed.

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