What is your measure of success? - Executips


Monday, September 11, 2023

What is your measure of success?

Success is a moving target. That’s because many people don’t know how far or how close they are to it, and maybe even more people don’t even know where they want to go.

My personal conviction is that success should NOT be measured in terms of money, fame, and power. So, I was sad when I discovered that merriam-webster.com has this definition of success: “also: the attainment of wealth, favor, or eminence.”


Money is not necessarily bad

In the book Born For This, entrepreneur Chris Guillebeau listed the three ideals for a job: Joy, flow, and money. Joy is the fulfillment we get from work, flow is getting immersed in what we are good at, and money is there to help us keep our focus. We cannot concentrate on our jobs or our mission for the world if we are distracted by the food, medicine, and children’s education we can’t afford.

We can also use our money to help people and do many good things.

For me, money is not a yardstick of success if it was earned through corruption, fraud, the destruction of the environment, among other evil things.


We have seen biopics of rock stars revealing the miserable lives of these icons. Some have unresolved family conflicts and others ruined their lives with alcohol or drugs. Would their fame and money qualify them as successful people?

It was in the 1950s when cardiologists Meyer Friedman and Roy Rosenman noted the correlation between the Type A personality and heart disease. Type A people are those who are “highly competitive, ambitious, work-driven, time-conscious, and aggressive.

My father was not ambitious but he worked hard for us. He smoked too when he was still in the Army. His other passion was gardening. All his kids grew up to be good people even though we never became rich. We suspect that it was the combination of hard work, smoking, and chemical fertilizers that gave him chronic pulmonary disease and Parkinson's. He got very sick doing the things he loved. Would we consider him successful?


When I was younger I was influenced by motivational speakers who preached about “achieving greatness.” I thought success was about being looked up to. Now, I am convinced that we cannot impose our achievement mentality on all people. Not everyone wants to be in the spotlight. There are those whose happiness is a silent afternoon in the woods, a warm morning with their kids, relaxation with real friends. 

In a Psychology Today article, Lawrence R. Samuel cited many experts who lament the fact that many people “feel less successful than they would otherwise feel.” They observe that the high standards of money and achievement that society sets cause people to “crash and burn.” Some would feel like failures and fall into a depression.” 

I also know people who have become doctors, dentists, and engineers only to satisfy their parents’ wishes. Are they successful? Or happy?

So, what is success?

I will still object to a success label on those who chose money and power over good human values. Apart from this, I believe that the definition of success should not be imposed on us by other people. We choose our own criteria, not those prescribed by our parents, peers, or townmates. 

For some, it may be good to start with a life purpose or personal mission statement. 

As for me, I look at the suggestions of these three people…

Maya Angelou: “Success is liking yourself, liking what you do, and liking how you do it.”

Dr. Ken Robinson: We must discover our element. Our element is that which we are good at and enjoy doing even for free.

Alfred Adler: A meaningful life is that which has a positive impact on the lives of others.

But these are just for me. Not forcing them on anybody.

You may also read:

Born For This by Chris Guillebeau

Finding Your Element by Ken Robinson

Stumbling on Happiness by Daniel Gilbert

The Courage to be Disliked by Ichiro Kishimi and Fumitake Koga

The Happiness Equation by Neil Pasricha

The Psychology of Success by Lawrence R. Samuel, Ph.D. on psychologytoday.com

Type A Behavior Pattern and Coronary Disease:  Philip Morris’s “Crown Jewel” on the National Library of Medicine website


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