How Do You Define Success?

When defining success consider personal professional and family

In defining success consider yourself, your work and your family

When someone asks you to define success, what do you think of?

If you say wealth, money, fame, popularity, acceptance or name some sort of achievement, you are not alone. This is what we’ve all been conditioned to think.

Often our definitions are incomplete…

Once, when asked to define success it occurred to me that whatever I said was going to be very subjective. It depended so much on the context, on what I was thinking of at the time, what my priorities were in the moment and my mood. For far too many people, including me on most days, the definition of success is likely to be overly career- or work-centric.

But that is not good enough, is it? What about family? What about balance? What about good health?

My formula for defining success helps you address success from three angles: personal, professional and family.

Professional Success

Let me begin with professional success. Professional success includes all the possible career related definitions like salary, perks, designation, responsibility, awards and overall professional acceptance. For those who work for themselves, this means professional or business income, the size of our client or customer network and the professional recognition or reputation we have achieved in profession or business.

Personal and Family Success

Personal success covers everything we want in life that is not related to professional aspects of our lives. More time for things you love, time to think and relax and time to spend with family and friends. Things that you may have been dreaming about, like starting your own business, developing a certain skill, volunteering more or even writing a book come under this category.

Overlaps are many

Sometimes personal success can overlap family success. This is often more true for women than men.  While we all love our families, and want our kids to do well, and our spouses or significant others to be happy and content, there are also many things we want for our own sakes. For me one of those things is writing. Sometimes, its volunteering or music. Other people have priorities like sports, hobbies or physical fitness that need to find time for.

Finding balance

Splitting the three aspects helps us be conscious of the need to find balance.

Everyone knows the conflicts of work-life balance. But there are also conflicts with what is good for you, and what you want, and the needs of your family and your family’s success. Sometimes, the energy and time I spend on things that make me healthy or give me satisfaction can eat into the time I have to spend with the family. I am sure each one of you has these issues of finding the right balance.

When defining success think of yourself, your work and your family

When we are defining success, or making long term plans, we need to consider all three aspects together. If we don’t, we’ll miss out on something critical. And that is not something you want to do.

Finding balance in life is a critical element in the 3S approach for finding Success, Significance and Satisfaction. Every time I ask readers to look forward, I keep reminding them to think about Personal, Professional and Family success. Together.

Remember this the next time someone asks you to define success.


A good ARTICLE to read on this same theme is Clayton Christensen’s article in the Harvard Business Review, How Will You Measure Your Life?

VIDEO: You may also want to watch Clayton Christen’s presentation, How Will You Measure Your Life?—at TEDXBoston.


About rcullen2015

I am an author, attorney, mediator and Professor of Law at the Santa Clara University. My first book was 'The Leading Lawyer, a Guide to Practicing Law and Leadership'. Now I am working on a book about 3S: Success, Significance and Satisfaction for the 50+ crowd.
This entry was posted in 3S, 3S BEYOND 50, Family, Happiness, Health and fitness, Leisure and pleasure, Personal growth, Work and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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