For Impact


SUCCESS. If You Can’t Define It, How Will You Know When You Make It?

Daily Nuggets | | Tom Suddes

SUCCESS. Everybody wants it. Few people can define it.

If you can’t define it, how will you know when you make it?

I’ve asked these questions of thousands of people over the years:

“How many of you want to be a success?” All hands go up.

“What does it mean for you to be a success?” Blank stares.*

(*It’s like, “Who wants to be a millionaire?” “Yeah! I do! I do!” “WHY?” “Huh?”)

SUCCESS. If you can’t define* it, if you can’t measure it, how will you know when you achieve it?

*When I say ‘define’ I mean in writing, clear, concise, compelling.

The dictionary definition of success is the “attainment of wealth, position, honors or the like.BULL HONKY!

This implies that most believe SUCCESS has something to do with finance, money and material goods, like houses or cars. The older you get, the more you know that it’s actually the complete opposite. In fact, in all of my readings, most of the philosophers and thinkers never tie SUCCESS to money. It’s always about value, significance, fulfillment and impact.

For example:

“Try not to be a SUCCESS, but rather to be of VALUE.” Albert Einstein

“Many people have come to a point in their life when they want to move from SUCCESS to SIGNIFICANCE.” Peter Drucker

“Our focus should be on FULFILLMENT, not SUCCESS.” Victor Frankl

And, of course, there’s Maslov and his ubiquitous pyramid who says our highest needs is SELF-ACTUALIZATION, after we’ve done the whole ‘food, shelter thing’.

Mark Cuban, billionaire, blogger and owner of the Dallas Mavericks says, “SUCCESS isn’t about how much money I have in the bank. It’s how big a smile I have on my face when I wake up.”

Mark Cuban, billionaire, blogger and owner of the Dallas Mavericks says, “SUCCESS isn’t about how much money I have in the bank. It’s how big a smile I have on my face when I wake up.”

One of my favorite definitions of SUCCESS is also around WAKING UP. It comes straight from the iconic legend of my youth, Bob Dylan.


In six words, DO WHAT I WANT TO DO.

Sometimes, just waking up every morning is good way to define success. ☺ My own six-word personal message/EIA (Eulogy In Advance) would be: “He Lived. Loved. Laughed. Learned. Left Legacy.”

While I won’t attempt to help you define your PERSONAL SUCCESS, I can share some thoughts on SUCCESS from some really smart people.

In 1936, Napoleon Hill wrote Think & Grow Rich, which has become one of the all time classics in the personal development field. He also wrote The Laws of Success. Mine is 3” thick with a bright red cover. Hill’s copyright is 1937. My first reading (inscribed inside the cover) was 40 years after that on the 25th of May 1977.

Here’s Napoleon Hill’s definition of success:

SUCCESS is the attainment of your DEFINITE CHIEF AIM
without violating the rights of other people.

Obviously, in order to achieve Hill’s SUCCESS, you’d need to know exactly what your DCA is!

Earl Nightingale, the actual father/founder of the personal development industry, wrote the all time classic motivational and inspirational book entitled The Strangest Secret. Recorded in 1956 for a small group of salespeople, The Strangest Secret went on to become one of the all time best selling records. It is also captured in 19 small pages – THE STRANGEST SECRET is really not that strange and it’s not a secret: YOU BECOME WHAT YOU THINK ABOUT. That’s the whole message.

Earl lays it out like this:

SUCCESS is the progressive realization of a WORTHY IDEAL.

Again, it would be hard to meet Earl’s definition if you weren’t sure what your ‘WORTHY IDEAL’ was!

Based on these two brilliant thinkers’ idea of SUCCESS means that you need to be able to define your DEFINITE CHIEF AIM or WORTHY IDEAL.

One of my absolute favorite coaches (based on philosophy attitude, demeanor) is John Wooden. He was named the Best Coach of All Time. Coach Wooden says, “SUCCESS is about peace of mind… knowing that you did the ABSOLUTE BEST you could do WITH WHAT YOU HAD.”

Harvey Cook wrote a great book, Scientific Success, in which he supported Coach Wooden – “My definition of SUCCESS is being the best you’re capable of being, based on who you are.”

And then there’s Ralph Waldo Emerson:

To laugh often and much; to win the respect of intelligent people and affection of
children, to earn the respect of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends; to appreciate beauty, to find the best in others, to leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch or a redeemed social condition, to know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded.

In Malcolm Gladwell’s book, Outliers, he offers these five steps for SUCCESS*:

  • Find MEANING and INSPIRATION in your work.
  • Work HARD.
  • Discover the relationship between EFFORT and REWARD.
  • Seek out COMPLEX WORK to avoid boredom and repetition. (MIHALY’S FLOW)
  • Be AUTONOMOUS and CONTROL YOUR OWN DESTINY as much as possible.

*He notes that talent and IQ don’t matter as much as we think they do (vis-à-vis SUCCESS). Awesome. That means I’ve still got a chance.

Tony Robbins’ Ultimate Success Formula:

  • Clearly decide what you are absolutely committing to.
  • Take massive action (not just action).
  • Notice what’s working or not and then change course or change approach until you get what you want.

We have put together a PDF poster with quotes on SUCCESS.

Use one of these definitions or create your own!