What is Success? What Does it Mean?


How Do YOU Define Success?

Today I read a blog today by a colleague of mine Marta Steele about Successful vs. Unsuccessful People.  It got my brain going for a bit and I wanted to share.

My initial reaction was that I really liked the list.  The actions on the left, Successful People, seemed to be the “right” actions.  It’s how I like to operate.  Actions that I would also like to see others take.  I’ve included a table below that combines the original list, Marta’s enhancements, and a few others I added.

A few minutes later I noticed something.  These are all ways to THINK or BEHAVE.  They didn’t really explain WHAT success is.  Hum, is that a problem, I wondered?

I also realized that I’ve seen a number of “commercially” successful people – in fact many executives – that constantly demonstrate the behaviors on the right. I started to ask myself the following questions:

  • How does success look from the inside?
    • How does a successful person perceive their actions?
    • How they feel about themselves?
  • How might success look from the outside? The tangibles such as job title, house, car and appearance… What about the “intangibles” from the outside? Charisma?
  • Does the difference (inside/outside) matter that much?
  • Can one be in conflict, feeling internally successful but not externally and vice versa?
  • Might those on opposite sides of this list view each other differently?
  • How would people who demonstrate behaviors on opposite sides of the list view each other?
  • Are individuals on the left more “content” and “happier” than those on the right? My hypothesis is that there is likely a high correlation…

Personally, I try to live on the left side.   It “feels” right to me.  I believe that operating on the left leads to greater success not only personally but for the broader groups and organizations.  I think it also leads to greater personal satisfaction. 

Living on the right can bring short-term success, but I’m not sure it is sustainable long-term.  When you don’t “play nice” and aren’t “above board,” others will eventually opt not to play with you.  Additionally, while it might bring individual success, it will not bring success to the larger group or organization if everyone behaved this way. 

What do you think?  How do you define success?  What actions do you believe lead to success?  Might businesses and organizations operate a bit differently if individuals (especially at the top of the organization) operated on the left rather than the right?

Want to stoke your brain a bit more on the topic of success?  You can read more in a prior article, What Does Success Look Like.  It might just give you a new perspective.

Successful People

Unsuccessful People

Have a sense of gratitude Have a sense of entitlement
Forgive others Hold a grudge
Give other people credit for their victories Take all the credit of their victories
Accept responsibility for their failures Blame others for their failures
Compliment Criticize
Embrace change Fear change
Challenge the norms Want to keep the sacred cows
Operate from a transformational perspective Operate from a transactional perspective
Read everyday Watch TV everyday
Keep a journal Say they keep a journal but really don’t
Talk about ideas Talk about people
Share information and data Horde information and data
Keep an abundance mentality Hold a scarcity mentality
Talk straight Spin the truth
Seek the opinions of those who think differently Surround themselves with like-mindedness
Take the first step to mend a broken relationship Wait for someone else to apologize first
Keep a “to-do/project” list Fly by the seat of their pants
Know when to say no Are addicted to busyness
Keep a “to be” list Don’t know what they want to be
Continuously learn Think they know it all
Evolve Stay stuck where they are
Want others to succeed Secretly hope others fail
Think WE Think ME
Exude joy Exude anger


  1. Marta Steele says:

    I love this, Faith! Each person must define success for themselves, and true, it looks different person to person.
    I find the behaviors a helpful guide and like your additions. I’m adding them to my list as well!

Guiding Principles

- Think Holistically
- Seek the Root Causes
- Respect the Individual
- Demonstrate Accountability
- Collaborate with Clients
- Work with Integrity, Always
- Relate to the Business Strategy
- Ensure Alignment
- Demonstrate Responsibility
- Transfer Skills

Thoughts and Quotes