What Does Success Look Like and How Does It Feel?

What does success look like? When you hear the word success, what do you picture?

Growing up, success meant luxury goods and over-the-top experiences. I grew up watching Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous, where the host, Robin Leach, explored the yachts, mansions, and luxury car collections of the world’s wealthiest people. Then signed off by wishing viewers “champagne wishes and caviar dreams.”

What does it take to build a mansion or buy private jets to fly around the globe? Money. What does it take to live on a yacht or own a garage full of Bentleys? Money.

Do you measure success by the amount of money you’ve accrued or saved? I did.

What Does Success Look Like?

What does success look like? It looks like dollar signs flashing before our eyes. Success is white picket fences, accolades, and extra large bank accounts.

The never-ending stream of Twitter feeds tells me money and success go hand-in-hand.

Money buys the flashy things we associate with success, but money is not the only measure, nor should it be. Success is about much more than wealth.

Success Looks Like Money

The primary definition of success is the accomplishment of a goal. In the modern world, we associate these goals with financial growth. We picture success as the objects and experiences money can buy, but success is not one-dimensional.

What if success looked like hugging your partner, the grateful smile of a child you’ve helped, or inspiring others to improve the world?

Success Looks Like a Joyful, Well-Rounded Life

What if success focused on our emotional well-being, social connections, and job-related enjoyment? What if we weighed time, money, relationships, and health?

Do you have time freedom? Do you have the flexibility to focus on your passions or share your time with people you love? Do you have time for the people and things that matter most to you?

Can you earn money and enjoy your work? Can you balance work with family obligations, creative ambitions, and your physical and mental health?

Are the answers to these questions better measures of success than money?

What Does Success Look Like?

What does success look like? Or, more specifically, what does it look like when we remove money-related visions from our view?

  • Being a good wife, mother, husband, father, son, daughter, etc.
  • Having friends that respect you
  • Inspiring others
  • Being true to yourself
  • Being creative
  • Being knowledgeable and well informed
  • Spending time with those you love
  • Giving back to your community
  • Pursuing your passions
  • Supporting friends and family members
  • Providing a stable home for your family
  • Living a simple life that connects you to your values
  • Maintaining your physical strength and stamina
  • Making a positive impact on those you meet

How do others perceive you? Do you make them feel loved, appreciated, and valued? Are you a good listener who pays attention to your friends’ needs? Can you be relied upon when someone needs you?

Society’s definition may revolve around power and wealth, but we don’t have to live our lives striving to meet that version of the word.

If You Feel Miserable, Are You Successful?

You can own the best things in life and be miserable. You can fill your bank accounts to the brim and never see your family. You can spend your days and nights at work and never exercise or eat well.

If you don’t feel fulfilled, are you successful? Can you succeed if you earn a ridiculous amount of money but are in the worst shape of your life? What if your bank accounts are overflowing, but your heart feels empty?

Becoming a millionaire doesn’t guarantee success, which is why we need to measure success holistically.

Society’s Definition of Success

I grew up with a limited view of success. To succeed, I thought I needed wealth, power, or status. To be highly regarded, I felt the need to attain all three.

A few weeks ago, I wrote about my lost identity and how I struggled to figure out who I was without a high-paying career. For the longest time, I placed too much emphasis on financial success, and it broke me.

Success might look like the mansions of wealthy moguls, stars, and musicians, but we don’t have to view it that way. We can break the mold and live the life we want. Along the way, we can use traditional means to measure success or create metrics of our own.

What Does Success Feel Like?

The older I get, the more my idea of success dissolves before my eyes. As I age, success feels less like something I can see or touch and more like something I can feel. 

Success is not a tangible object but a feeling of satisfaction from a well-lived life. It’s the excitement I feel when I learn something new or explore my passions, the pride I feel when I close my computer, and the warm feeling that fills my heart as I tuck my children into bed.

Success can be a feeling of accomplishment that provides a paycheck or an achievement that doesn’t pay a single penny.

What Does Success Look Like to You?

Before plotting off in search of becoming a millionaire, I wish I’d pondered the definition of success. I wish I’d asked myself what success looks like instead of using the dictionary definition to measure.

Comparison is the thief of joy, and looking at the traditional version of success didn’t help me.

What does success look like to you? Perhaps more importantly, what does it feel like? What do you need to feel successful?

Maybe you need to feel connected to your partner, parents, children, or society. Perhaps you want to be creative or strive to learn something new every day.

There is nothing wrong with securing financial success. You can create a profitable business or reach the highest heights of the corporate ladder. Success can occur inside of spreadsheets and bank statements, but it doesn’t have to revolve around money.

If you are unhappy with the traditional version of success, ask yourself why you are pushing for larger paychecks. Do you need more money, or can you live simply while meeting other goals?

If you feel stuck, think about the definition of success and how it might change in your lifetime. When I was a kid, success showed itself in the form of business suits, wall street, and MTV Cribs. Now, success includes deep relationships, caring for others, and pursuing my passions. 

What does success look like to you, and how might it change as you age?

6 thoughts on “What Does Success Look Like and How Does It Feel?”

  1. Most of my friends are like me. We are multimillionaires, mostly retired with multiple streams of income and with great marriages and close families. We also were business leaders or CEO’s who still prioritized family. Based on my experience you can have great career success without sacrificing your important relationships. And in retirement we are actively engaged in volunteering and supporting worthy causes. I share your concept of success but did not find my career to be a hindrance to living an intentional successful life.

    • @Steveark, Thanks for the comment. In the past, you’ve mentioned your enjoyment at work and your passion for the work you performed. I think that makes a big difference in the way you view success. I also agree that you can make your way up the corporate ladder and still forge strong relationships and prioritize family. It’s great that you lived an intentional life while working and know many other corporate execs who did the same. I think time is changing the definition of success and I’m happy we are finding better ways to balance the social, occupational, and physical aspects of that term.

  2. This was an interesting post. Sometimes I wonder if I’ve spent too much of my life chasing success and not enough of my life chasing what’s truly important. But that raises a question of how should we spend our time if we don’t care about success. Which is kind of a hard question to answer too.

    • @Gov Worker, I don’t think we should stop striving for success. We need aims, goals, and objectives to keep life fun and interesting. I’m trying to add other measurements of success, because I want to aim for a well rounded, joyful life. It can be hard to think holistically when dollar signs flash before our eyes. I think the goal is to balance our core values with our desire to earn more, which is easier for some people than others.

  3. Thank you very much for this article, it should help those who read it understand that success isn’t just the things you can see.

    My working life was hard work, to put it mildly. My husband was often away for work and I took on the main responsibility for looking after our two sons whilst at the same time having a demanding full-time job of my own. I don’t feel the level I reached in my career reflect my true abilities. This used to bother me, I used to feel I’d ‘failed’ – but now I feel very differently. I look back at young me and I feel very proud of what I was able to achieve in terms of doing a good job at work whilst at the same time looking after my children (and husband). This was very difficult at times – I don’t really know how I did it! I’m now retired and have very strong, loving relationships with my husband and sons, a great family in general and lots of good friends and stuff to do. That to me is happiness, that is success, and I feel so lucky that my life has turned out the way it has.

    • @Louise H, Thank you for this beautiful comment. I think we often struggle to see our success in the moment. I’m glad time helped you see your success!


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