How do you define success in life?
Do you give much thought to the question?
By definition, the word success means: favorable or desired outcome.
Other dictionary definitions of the word include phrases such as: the attainment of wealth, position, honors, or the like.
Too often, we conflate phrases like “desired outcome” with “attainment of wealth or honor.” In that case, or in other definitions, we measure success in life in terms of favorable, external outcomes.
But this is not always the best way to define success. External outcomes may be appropriate measures at times, but not always.
For example, most of the people in my life want to be successful parents. In fact, a good percentage of them might even define raising good kids as more important than attaining wealth or power.
If those parents were to define success in terms of favorable, external outcomes, “good kids” would be the attainment of their goal and an indication of their success.
On the surface, that might make perfect sense. Parenting success results in good kids, right? How else are we going to measure a favorable outcome?
But hold on a second.
Some of the most loving, patient, wise, intentional parents I know don’t have kids that turned out well. No doubt you know faithful parents as well whose children didn’t turn out as one would hope.
A parent can do everything right, but every human being is going to make their own choices about how to live.
In fact, to take it a step further, I know some families where one child turned out to be a loving, high-contributing member of society and a second child, with the exact same parents in the exact same family, turned out completely different.
If those parents (or any parent reading this article) define success by the external outcome of “good kids,” they might think they are far from it. Even though they did everything right—or at least to the best of their ability.
See where I’m going with this?
At many points in life, defining success as an external, desired outcome is an incorrect measure.
We can run into this faulty equation in other scenarios as well:
1. A businessman who runs his business with character and integrity and generosity may end up with a company far smaller than someone who runs theirs with greed.
2. A highly talented and hard-working individual may choose a career of service in the nonprofit industry and end with far less financial wealth than a similarly talented and motivated individual who chose a career for individual profit.
3. A mother may dedicate her days to raising her children because she feels called to do so and end with far fewer honors and awards than a mother who stayed in the public eye.
4. A politician may choose integrity and still lose an election to a corrupt opponent.
In each case, the outcomes do not do justice to the lives lived. Success must be measured differently than favorable, external outcomes alone.
So how do we define success in life?
We can define success differently when we stop looking to external “outcomes” as the only definition of it.
Success in life is living true to your values and passions—regardless of the outcome.
There is certainly a conversation to be had over the question, “Are some values and passions better than others?” But I’m not here to define those for you today.
Instead, I want to just encourage you that a life lived aligned with your values, lived to the fullest of your abilities, is the only definition of success you need.
A focused and intentional life is a favorable outcome—in and of itself.
For some of you, though the externals may paint a different picture, success is closer than you think.
And for others, though the externals may paint a positive picture, success is farther away than you think—especially if your values and passions have been sacrificed to achieve those outcomes.