How Do You Define Success?

A few months ago, I began working with a life coach. During one particularly engaging session, she asked me to write down the words I would use to describe myself. 

My pen hit the paper, and I scribbled out the following:

  • Mother
  • Wife
  • Writer
  • Seeker of Good Fortune
  • Blogger
  • Friend
  • Daughter
  • Optimist

I looked at the list with a big wide grin. For the first time ever, I didn’t write down my former occupation. In the past, I would’ve included former software engineer among the other descriptions.

While the current list looks quaint and sweet, it wouldn’t have been enough for me in the past. Why? Because it doesn’t include any details about my money-making abilities. 

Until the last year or so, I equated my self-worth with my former profession. I failed to value myself beyond the money I used to earn. Thankfully, now things are different.

Are you Aiming for Accomplishment or Success?

This fact became apparent in the next exercise. This time, the life coach asked me to create a vision for myself in the future. I wrote down the following words:

After I finished writing, we talked about the concepts on the page. 

“What does it mean to be successful?” she asked, and my mind flashed straight to money. 

“I don’t like the word,” I promptly said after making that realization. I crossed through it and highlighted the word accomplished instead.

The Definition of Success

Happiness, contentment, peace, and a feeling of accomplishment all rank above success. Yet, it’s that little word at the bottom of the list that continued to catch my eye.

Later that evening, I searched for definitions of the word and came across the following:

  • The attainment of wealth.
  • A person or thing that has had success, as measured by attainment of wealth.

Sure, there are other interpretations, but these are the ones that immediately jump off the page at me. Although the word means many things, my brain fixates on these ideas.

The Heavy Weight of Success

In my mind, the term success carries a certain weight with it—a heaviness associated with white picket fences, accolades, and large bank accounts.

For most of my teenage years, all of my twenties, and half of my thirties, I searched for the all-mighty dollar the way Indiana Jones searched for the Holy Grail.

My efforts paid off. By the age of thirty, my husband and I amassed over one million dollars worth of cash, properties, and investments.

By all financial accounts, we were successful. So nine years ago, I left my high-paying job to raise my son. The decision was difficult, but I reasoned we had plenty of money.

Plus, my husband would continue to earn a high income, so there wasn’t any need for me to pile extra cash on top of the pile that already existed.

I left my former identity as a software engineer behind, but I desperately missed my paycheck. After years of chasing money, it seems I’d wrapped my whole identity into the accumulation of it. 

The Definition of Accomplished

Why did I miss that paycheck? Because I was still holding on to a warped definition of success. I was still dreaming of attaining wealth even though I knew deep down that success is not about accumulating more of it. 

When I scribbled down my goals for my life coach, I didn’t include success at the top of my list. Instead, happiness, contentment, peacefulness, and a general sense of accomplishment all took precedence.

In fact, I cast success aside and highlighted the word accomplished instead. The definition of “accomplished” means to “carry out or finish an action—to complete what you set out to do.”

In my mind, money has nothing to do with the definition, but I am still connecting the dots between the two.

The Connection Between Money and Success

After writing down the words that defined me and my future desires, I created a vision of my accomplished self. What would it mean to be accomplished? How would I picture myself after achieving my goals?

I sketched an image of my children, and I snuggled under a warm blanket in a cozy spot in our living room. In my picture, they are laughing while I write stories for them. Money isn’t a part of my image, and yet it is.

If I hadn’t saved money before they were born, I wouldn’t be in this spot to enjoy their company without the need to earn more. This fact isn’t lost on me.

While money is not my focus for the future, I could not achieve my other goals if I was still focused so intently on acquiring wealth.

I can kick my visions of success to the curb, but somewhere deep down, I still see the underlying financial theme running in the background. It’s easy to see why the waters are murky.

The Underlying Theme of Money

After striving so intently to increase my income it became easy to narrow my focus to only one aspect of my journey. When I quit my job, it wasn’t easy to part with the money-making aspect of it.

There are many reasons for this. For starters, my husband and I bonded as our money grew. At the beginning of our careers, I didn’t earn much, but over the years, my salary skyrocketed. As the numbers rose in our bank accounts, it felt like we were accomplishing great things together.

When I decided to quit my job, I felt guilty for walking away from a paycheck while my husband continued his standard 9-to-5 routine.

Sure, we’d reached financial independence, but we still had one expensive goal to accomplish. We wanted to build a waterfront beach home. It didn’t feel fair to send him off on that journey alone.

For years, I thought I brought value to my relationship by funneling money into our bank accounts. When I chose to stay-at-home, I wasn’t sure what I was bringing to the table.

I wrapped so much of my identity into my former career that I couldn’t see my value after I stopped working. It’s been a long journey to see past that narrow image of myself.

My Definition of Success

These days I see success in a completely different light. I wish to accomplish big goals without worrying or focusing on money.  

But as crazy as it sounds, I don’t think I could’ve redefined success until I declared myself financially free. Believe me; I wish I could have.

Money is not the measurement of success, but I couldn’t see that fact until my bank accounts were full of it. I couldn’t recognize that fact without stockpiling it first.

My future vision doesn’t include swimming in a vault of gold coins like Scrooge McDuck. It’s not about wealth at all. Perhaps, it never should have been.

My definition of success is not about the number of zeros in my bank account. It’s about helping others, persevering through difficulties, loving others, and feeling loved.

It’s about being content, continually learning, and always putting in my best efforts. These are the real treasures life holds.

19 thoughts on “How Do You Define Success?”

  1. One of the things you should work on is growing your site. After being around for so long, there may be something missing from your writing that is not resonating with others to grow.

    Growing your site bigger may be the most objective measure of success, not money.

      • One way is to be more transparent. Saying you and your husband got to $1 million net worth, but it’s not very helpful bc there are no action steps to get there. Recommend stations help.

        Another way is to leverage the PF blog network for more promotion. If you are white, you should be able to get more help give most PF bloggers are white and tend to highlight other white bloggers on their sites or podcasts. Leverage the system to your advantage.

        However, if you are a minority, you must write more and write more in-depth articles. Also have a more unique point of view. You will probably get pounced on a lot for going outside of the echo chamber, but it will help you stand out from the crowd.

        • I completely understand what you mean. I went to my old office and my replacement had just landed a huge account that would have been mine (the client asked for me when he walked in). I don’t need the money, but I miss the quantifiable achievements I had with my job. Cooking dinner and doing laundry for my family is useful, but not the same. You will soon have time to dedicate to doing something fulfilling outside of your family if you want to.

          Don’t change your content. I find it thought provoking and compassionate.

          • Thank you for your kind comment She’s FIRE’d. Your comment expresses my thoughts so eloquently. I love my children and being home with them, but I guess I miss the quantifiable achievements. It’s funny, because I know if I were at work I would be miserable and constantly thinking about my children. I suppose the grass is always slightly greener on the other side.

        • Thank you for your input. These topics are covered in other blog posts. I don’t want to reiterate the same material in every blog post, but I appreciate your feedback.

  2. I love your content frugal girl, two themes in particular are resonating with me; intent & accomplishment and both are areas I need to focus and improve on. Keep up the great stuff, it’s helping.

    • Hi Chris, Thank you for your comment. I’ve never heard that quote but I do love it. It sums up my thoughts on the topic quite succinctly. I went in search of the author and really enjoyed what I read, so thank you for sharing this!

  3. My wife left her career behind when we had the first of our three kids. She didn’t stop contributing to our financial success, rather she built the platform that supercharged my career to the point my pay far exceeded the total we used to make when we both had 9 to 5’s. Plus her attention and love and presence with those three is why they all received 100% merit based free rides to four year degrees. They all self paid their graduate degrees and are all self sufficient adults, an engineer, a doctor and a college education specialist. I think she is every bit as accomplished as one of my female CEO friends who runs a billion dollar corporation. Don’t minimize the role you’ve chosen, it’s the powerful engine that powers your family. The kids and I recognize that she is the biggest contributor to our success (even if you don’t like that word!). She made it all happen for us and we are all in awe of her and so grateful.

    • Steveark, Your comment brought me to tears. Thank you for leaving it. It’s clear I need to reevaluate my ideas of successful and accomplished. I am going to start quoting you as I need to remind myself regularly that my role “is the powerful engine that powers my family.” My success extends beyond me to my husband and my children. I’m not sure why I didn’t view it that way before. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you for writing this!

  4. I strive for a value added life too. I don’t make much but I love my job. I still struggle with that reality but each year, I feel like I find better tools to make a better (and brighter) human.

    • I feel this so deeply. I am constantly searching for a “value added life.” I know, without a shadow of a doubt, that I would not want to spend the better part of my days in the quest of more money. There are so many other amazing ways to spend my time and live a better, more meaningful life.

  5. I enjoy the way you write! I’ve been reading your blog for about 4 years now, but was intrigued by your insight and have read various older posts as well. This post in particular made me smile as I have been reading/watching you evolve into being content with who you are now as a person rather than holding on to who you were. I found you because I was looking for frugal advice, but I continue to read you because I enjoy following your life journey.

    • Hi Jen,

      Thank you for leaving such a thoughtful comment. This blog has become a tale of my personal journey. I enjoy writing it and flipping back through the posts to see just how much my mindset has evolved. Thank you for reading for all these years and for leaving this comment to let me know you enjoy the content. I have grown immensely since I first started writing fifteen years ago! Sometimes it’s hard to believe I am the same person that wrote those earlier posts.

  6. According to Your Point of View, this Definition of the Success is Very Charming. I Told You My Story a Few Years Back that I have a lack of money no Home and No JOB. Go to the interview and Found a small term the job to Start work I work Hard and Day Night. and then the Rewards Comes and I am a Successfull business Man Now. So, Keep Working and Try Your Hard to Achieve Success


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