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3 Steps to Help You Define What Your Personal Success Means to You

Updated: Nov 4, 2022

Today, success equals a shower alone and a hot coffee. Yum!

Tomorrow it might be about finishing that book or writing that article. Next month it's all about finding available swimming lessons for my child.

But today is all about that damn coffee. It has to be hot, or else.

But why is defining success such an important task?

Because if we don't know what success is, we will not know how to get there or whether we have achieved it.


Success is such a vague term. It means different things to different people. And different things to the same person, but on different occasions.

According to Oxford Learner's Dictionaries, success (noun) is "the fact that you have achieved something that you want and have been trying to do or get; the fact of becoming rich or famous or of getting a high social position". You choose the definition that sits better with you. For me, it's about achieving what you wanted. And if I wanted that hot coffee...basically my day is off to a good start.

According to a survey conducted on 2000 Americans in 2018, to understand what success means to them, 67% admitted more money would mean success. Having a dream job came next at 22%.

But more money and a dream job both sound a bit foggy. How much money? What sort of a job? Does getting an interview at that super-duper firm qualify as a raving success? What about a 2% pay rise? Is that 'more money' enough?

And that's where the problem lies. You need to be able to define your personal success. What exactly it means to you. Not some wishy-washy maybe-this-maybe-that.

1. Accept that you definition of success is one of a kind.

Different things have different values for different people.

For one person, winning a lottery might mean success. For another, getting that promotion or completing that degree with a distinction.

Unless you are crystal clear about what success means to you, you might be on the path of achieving someone else's dreams. And it's not nice.

If you know what exactly will make you happy, then you can ignore all the noises and distractions, all the success stories screaming at you from the Instagram pages. You can forget them all as you know what you need and where you are going and why.

It might be intimidating at first. Everyone says you should do A, B and then C. That Internet Guru claims D is the way forwards. Everyone is so sure they are right.

But you have your own truth. You know that only achieving E will make you happy and that's what you are after.

2. Accept that success consists of multiple mini-achievements.

It's easy-ish to agree on measurements for daily success. But how do you define success for something long-term?

If you write a book that's 50000 words, what would you classify as a success? Writing 50000 or 1000 per day? If 50000 - it would be a long and sad journey towards it because you won't reach it overnight. Nope. Even NaNoWriMo takes 30 days.

But if you define success slightly differently and accept that there are distinct steps on the way to your ultimate success, then we are talking.

Every undertaking needs to be predefined. You need to know what to consider your personal success per day, per week, per month and overall.

“To me, success means working toward my dreams. As long as I keep moving in the right direction I feel successful.” — Cara Newman, Editor, Young Money

In our example, success means:

  • Per day - 750 - 1000 words

  • Per month - 10000 words

  • Ultimate goal - 50000 words

This schedule is less intimidating as it allows some leeway for procrastination and sofa days.

3. Be realistic about your abilities.

It's a marathon, not a sprint.

I suppose it means that sometimes success could only be seen in hindsight.

That begs a question: how do we continue with our journey toward long-term achievement when we cannot hit our daily goals?

I think the answer lies in empathy.

We simply need to remember that, as humans, we might be incapable of religiously completing every daily task and goal. It's a marathon, not a sprint.

We need to remember to go easy on ourselves and only ever apply constructive self-criticism. This is to ensure that we are not jumping to conclusions and accusing ourselves of not reaching that state of successful bliss after missing one self-imposed deadline.

That is why every time you take something on, decide for yourself what success means to you for the task at hand.


In my original article, where I came up with a list of 28 motivational ideas, I decided to motivate myself just for the sake of motivating myself. It was summer. It was in the midst of the first lockdown. I was bored and directionless.

And even though the exercise was fun, I achieved little because I didn't decide what task to concentrate on. I was simply completing my list of ideas, one after another.

Then, a month or so later, I was determined to start working on the novel that burned like a flame inside my chest. It was November, but I didn't think NaNoWriMo was for me. So instead, I chose my 28 ideas on how to motivate myself. I took it very seriously. And having "Define your success" as item number one helped me immensely.

At first, I thought success means finishing the novel. And then I remembered that I was a mum to a one-year-old who had a job and other responsibilities. When was I planning on writing it? At night? And how about sleep?

So no. I had to agree that success on this occasion meant finishing something smaller. Like a first take, the first shitty draft.

The perfectionist in me got very angry and argumentative. "Its all or nothing!" - it kept shouting. I was about to listen to it when I remembered all my other novels that never ever ever got past the first chapter. Why? Because I identified success as 'all or nothing' approach.

And I did it. I succeeded. I have my first unreadable draft! Yipee!

Final Thoughts

There is no secret souce of achieving success.

It tasted different to everyone of us.

But being honest and defining it upfront, might save us a lot of tears of frustration and disappointment.


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