The Secret To Success? First, Let’s Define “Success”

I remember years ago being asked to be one of several people to contribute to an article intended to answer the question, “What is the Secret to Success?”

Putting aside my personal opinion that there is no one big, overarching, magic bullet-type secret — but rather a set of proven principles — there was something else to consider.

You see, while I was honored to be asked, I also realized that — by the very nature of the question — there is an inherent problem. And that is, before one can legitimately answer the question and hopefully provide some helpful information, the very term, “Success” must first be defined.

If you’re a regular reader of mine you might be rolling your eyes right now knowing I would say that. Otherwise, you might think I’m simply being “nitpicky.” I don’t think so. I believe that if it’s not defined then the very answer is going to be confusing. And, the confusion will become more and more exaggerated with each different answer.

Why? Because both the writers and the readers could be coming from very different perspectives.

You see, ten different people can each have their own definition of success. As a result, one person’s answer; based on their own personal belief system, will be misunderstood and taken out of context by the others, operating out of their personal belief systems.

This is why you’ll sometimes hear someone say, “Success isn’t everything” when what they really mean is, “Money isn’t everything.” (They have defined success as being money, and only money.)

A Well-Known Example or False Premise?

There’s a very famous saying along these lines attributed to Albert Einstein, which I have little doubt that he either never said, or it was taken out of context. The quote is, “Strive not to be a person of success but rather a person of value.” Unless Einstein saw “success” as only being money (and it’s doubtful he did) he would not have said this. If one is a person of success, they are indeed a person of value.

By the way, “Success” also happens to be one of those terms that is contextual in nature. In other words, it’s substance changes depending upon the situation.

For example, in a baseball game, one team wins and one team loses. The team that wins was “successful” in terms of the win. While the team that lost may have “successfully” improved its performance from last time, they were not successful in terms of the game’s result.

If you have a goal of losing 10 pounds within three months and accomplish that goal, you were — by the nature of the thing — “successful.” If you lost nine pounds you were not successful in reaching the entire goal. You were 90 percent successful.

Several Definitions of Success

The above examples defined “Success” as: “The accomplishment of a desired goal.” It also included various degrees and interpretations of success.

Now some other definitions, in different contexts from the above.

One of the first definitions of this term I’d ever heard was from the great Earl Nightingale on his audio program, Lead the Field. He defined Success as “The progressive realization of a worthwhile dream or goal.”

In his book, Wooden, co-written with Steve Jamison, John Wooden, the famous UCLA record-setting basketball coach defined Success as “Peace of mind that is a direct result of self-satisfaction in knowing you did your best to become the best that you are capable of becoming.” What’s very interesting is that, despite his enormous propensity to win basketball games…his focus was not on winning; his winning was the result of what he focused on; mastering the fundamentals in relationship to his above quote.

My father cites Wisdom of the Fathers from the Talmud, where it asks, “Who is Rich?” and then answers, “That person who rejoices in their lot?” Seems to me that anyone who rejoices in their lot is certainly successful. In this case, “rich” is different from “wealthy” though there is no reason why being one should preclude being the other.

Just A Couple More

Christopher Morley wrote, “There is only one success — to be able to spend your life in your own way.”

And, in their book, The Law of Attraction, Esther and Jerry Hicks opine that “The achievement of anything that you desire must be considered success . . . but, if you will let your standard of success be your achievement of joy, everything else will fall easily into place.”

I think each and every one of those definitions are terrific and add their own dimension to the concept of Success. I don’t believe any of them conflict, but rather complement.

My definition — and the one I’d like to use here — seems to most resemble Coach Wooden’s. I define success as “A feeling of peace of mind and genuine happiness based on having lived up to one’s potential.”

This could include an entire life of success or success with regards to a specific accomplishment. It could also apply to specific areas of life, such as — but not limited to — success of a financial, physical, spiritual, mental, emotional, or social/relational nature.

Based on my definition, it seems we could legitimately say that, “to the degree one lives up to their potential in the specific area they are targeting for success, that is the degree to which they are successful.”

Now that we have our definition (or, I should say, “a” definition since my definition need not be yours), let’s answer the original question, “What is the Secret to Success?” Or, if not one actual secret, what are some proven principles that can get us there?

We’ll look at that in more detail in the next article tomorrow.

Meanwhile, please tell us, what is your definition of Success?

[Ed. Note. Bob Burg (www.burg.com) is coauthor of the International Bestseller, The Go-Giver. The book has been published in 22 languages and has sold over 250,000 copies. Check out this brief and entertaining overview of the book at http://www.burg.com/tgg where you can also download Chapter One. And, of course, feel free to share it with others.]

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  • Steve White

    Great article Bob Burg. I do believe we can’t let success define us. We must define success for ourselves. I’m going to put some thought into it again and use this as an opportunity to reflect on my life and how I am impacting people around me. I tend to believe that success has just as much to do with how we’re making a difference in others around us as it has to do with my own personal monetary or intangible benefits received due to that impact. Make it a great day.

    Steve White

    • Bob Burg

      Steve: Thank you. Yes, defining success proactively – whether in general or for any specific goal or purpose – is so important. After all, you want to be the one to “set the premise” from which you’ll then take the appropriate action.

    • Craig Ballantyne

      Well said, Steve, thank you!

  • Ted Lee Sadler

    Agreed!

    Wisdom reminds us that ‘Words have meaning’ – clear definitions are the foundation of communication.

    Personal: Success is found in serving others & G-d over self.

    Mr Burg – Thank you for ‘laying the foundation’ – I look forward to the next installment!

    • Bob Burg

      Ted: Thank you for your kind feedback!

  • Gordon Foreman

    I would define success as follows: If at the end of my life, when I stand before my Maker to give an account of my stewardship, He says, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant,” then I will have been successful. I’m striving to live my life so as to achieve this goal, and encouraging those around me to do likewise.

    • Bob Burg

      Gordon: Thank you for sharing with us. That is a terrific definition!

  • Love this Post and So true, everyone’s definition of success is different and it all depends as You say the context as well, are we talking about Family, Business, Game etc…

    To me Success is much larger than Money or Stuff.
    A Billionaire can be miserable and unethical no different than someone with no money.

    I think Success in life is:
    Have we empowered, inspired, given massive value in all areas of our life, to our Family, friends, business and more

    That to me is ultimate success no matter how many houses or stuff, or how much money I have accumulated at any given point of my life to the degree I have helped empower, inspire others to be the best in all areas of their life’s is Success to me.

    And from that money naturally arises, and not just money, friendships, collaborations, Joint Ventures, Smiles, Laughter.

    To everyone’s Success
    Enjoy the Journey

    • Bob Burg

      Carly: Thank you for your feedback. Appreciate ya’!

  • DixieDynamite

    Bob, I love how you begin this discussion by noting that, if one is not clear about their definition of success, no secrets of principles will help you achieve it. If you don’t have a goal how will you know when you reach it.

    For me, success is living on my own terms. That doesn’t mean never compromising, never losing, never failing – it means doing everything I do through my own choices. Because the only other choice is to let other people choose for me. And that is my definition of true failure.

    • Bob Burg

      Dixie: Thank you. I appreciate the compliment. And, I love your entire second paragraph. Very Powerful!!

      • Craig Ballantyne

        Agreed Dixie, well said!

  • cmwmom

    I agree with Mr. Einstein. I would give the example of President Obama who is a success at getting what he wanted (the Presidency), but he is certainly not a person of value.

    • Bob Burg

      CMW: As a Libertarian who advocates for free-market capitalism, I’m certainly not a fan of the president or his policies, however, that seemed like more of a personal attack than anything else.