Success 101: What Success Actually Is

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Health 106: Weight Management

There’s a booming how-to industry around success, but they rarely define it

A full life is approximately 78 years

Average life routines make our time even shorter

  • 28.3 years sleeping, assuming 8 hours a night
  • 10.5 years working a job, presuming full-time work
  • 9 years are consuming entertainment
  • 6 years are doing chores
  • 4 years are eating and drinking
  • 3.5 years are in institutionalized learning
  • 2.5 years are grooming and personal hygiene
  • 2.5 years are shopping
  • 1.5 years are raising children
  • 1.3 years are commuting
  • 9 years left over are “free time”

Success (or being seen as successful) comes mostly during those nine collective “free time” years

Perspectives define success, but they can vary significantly

Success might be others’ interpretation of what you’ve done

Success could be how you feel about your accomplishments

Most discussions about success often focus on only one type of success

  • However, many writers and speakers express universal rules and values of success

The most important parts of life vary strongly by region

  • America and Europe value health and satisfaction with life
  • Latin America values education
  • A few countries like Saudi Arabia, Nepal, Ukraine and some African countries see money as a measurement of success
  • Developing countries tend to find success in safety and housing
  • A handful of countries like Australia value work-life balance
  • Bhutan and Zimbabwe see success as involvement in the community

Irrespective of its relativity, several profound definitions of success that may be more accurate

  • Earl Nightingale calls success “a progressive realization of a worthy ideal”
  • Tony Robbins defines success as “having a ton of pleasure and very little pain”
  • Zig Ziglar calls success “the maximum utilization of the ability that you have”
  • John Wooden says success is “peace of mind attained only through self-satisfaction in knowing you made the effort to do the best of which you’re capable”

Many people would say that a person was successful if they had the following (all previously on this guide)

Many conventional success measurements are horrifically dangerous

How many friends you have

  • No human being is logistically capable of having more than 300 relationships in any given year
  • Crowds of friends are expensive and time-consuming
  • The best measurement of relationships is the depth of one-on-one connections with others

How much money you have

  • Money is just a measurement of power, not of competence or personal value
  • Some of the most innovative people in the world make very little money
  • On the other hand, there isn’t anything inherently unethical with making tons of money

How famous you are, how much people notice you or your overall reputation

  • Fame and reputation are fickle
  • Famous people often suffer a complete lack of privacy
  • Without values behind a reputation, you can’t recover from any public tarnishing of that reputation

How much you know or how intelligent you are

  • Intelligent people are scientifically proven to make more stupid mistakes from conceit
  • To be knowledgeable isn’t as important as having wisdom or skillfulness

How “balanced” you are

  • Since balance is entirely relative, attaining it is exceedingly difficult
  • Cultural values vary too wildly to make balance an accurate measurement
  • Unresolved past life experiences often make balance impossible or bring us to mistake as an imbalance

Success is mostly relative, but it has some universal measurements

Emotionally well

How happy you are more than anything else

Able to handle stress and stay calm in the middle of a crisis

How long it takes to fall asleep

  • A consistent sleep schedule isn’t as much of a success as sleeping well


The difference between how you are today and how you were years ago

The number and scope of tasks devoted to improving yourself

Willingness and motivation to take advantage of opportunities as they come along

Unchanging on a few things

Avoids conforming to everyone else’s standards

Changes behaviors, but not values

  • Even compromising a few values can eventually sabotage all of them


Holds insight on how the world operates

  • Ability to apply a principle to concrete day-to-day actions

Strong self-awareness and acceptance of immutable truths

Acquired mastery of a craft

Strong personal and business relationships

The amount of impact you make in others’ lives

The quantity and quality of people that you have trust-based relationships with

The number of people who will want to attend your funeral

The lack of inane “politics” you engage in

Virtuous, according to Christopher Peterson’s and Martin Seligman’s Strengths and Virtues

Wisdom and Knowledge – strengths involving acquiring and using knowledge

  • Creativity (e.g., Albert Einstein) – ability to look at things
  • Curiosity (e.g., John C. Lilly) – desire to see beyond the conventional
  • Open-mindedness (e.g., William James) – able to see things from a different angle
  • Love of learning (e.g., Benjamin Franklin) – always interested in discovering new truths
  • Perspective and wisdom (e.g., Ann Landers) – applying knowledge and experience into day-to-day life
    • There is very little correlation between wisdom and age

Courage – strengths allowing one to accomplish goals in the face of opposition

  • Bravery (e.g., Ernest Shackleton) – standing up against direct opposition
  • Persistence (e.g., John D. Rockefeller) – continuing toward a purpose without outside support
  • Integrity (e.g., Sojourner Truth) – uncompromising on values
  • Vitality (e.g., Dalai Lama) – excitement and energy in approaching life

Humanity – strengths of tending and befriending others

  • Love (e.g., Romeo and Juliet) – connecting intimately with others
  • Kindness (e.g., Cicely Saunders) – tendency to do favors and good deeds
  • Social intelligence (e.g., Oprah Winfrey) – awareness of motives and feelings in self and others

Justice – strengths that build a healthy community

  • Teamwork (e.g., Sam Nzima) – works well with others
  • Fairness (e.g., Mohandas Gandhi) – treats others with justice
  • Leadership – encouraging peers and subordinates to accomplish what needs to get done

Temperance – strengths that protect against excess

  • Forgiveness (e.g., Pope John Paul II) – ability to reconcile and release
  • Humility & Modesty (e.g., Bill W., co-founder of AA) – lets accomplishments speak for themselves
  • Prudence (e.g., Fred Soper) – careful about making choices
  • Self-Regulation (e.g., Jerry Rice) – restraint from excess

Transcendence – strengths that forge connections to the larger universe and provide meaning

  • Appreciation of Beauty & Excellence (Walt Whitman) – noticing and appreciating beauty
  • Gratitude (G.K. Chesterton) – awareness and gratitude for good things
  • Hope (Martin Luther King, Jr.) – expecting the best and working towards it
  • Humor (Mark Twain) – seeing a lighter side to things
  • Spirituality (Albert Schweitzer) – having a higher purpose and calling in the universe

Successful people keep specific rules on how to live


Makes every decision with definite boldness

Develops clarity from premeditation and thinking things through

  • Clear about expectations from self and others
  • Looks at the long-term effects of every action they take

Intentionality and focus often create push-back from others who misunderstand it as an obsession

Steadily improving

Always looks to become better at everything

Continually learning about anything and everything that interests them

  • Always curious and likes to ask questions about everything

Rarely feels stagnant or incapable of handling problems

  • Sees life as a constant series of transformations, both in self and in others


Strives for excellence, not perfection

Expects life to be unfair and plans for it

Focuses on results more than perfection

  • Estimates necessary resources before making an emotional commitment to something
  • Aims for adding value, not a hypothetical goal in ideal circumstances

Focuses more on the future self they want to be than what they don’t like in themselves


Comes back to every problem with determination and energy

  • Consistently finds inward motivation
  • Remembers successes far more than failures

Understands they are the authors of their wellness

Keeps sight of the goal, no matter how bleak things get

Desires self-sufficiency and freedom over sacrificing freedoms to get needs met


Permits naturally occurring uncertainties and failures

Willing and open, often eager, to improvise and make quick decisions

Open and ready to change tactics from plans

Constantly adapting approach from failures


Uses resources for a higher purpose than merely managing them

  • Resources – limited and measurable things (time, money, technology, experience, connections)
  • Resourcefulness – only limited to a vision and perpetually changing (creativity, determination, love, passion)


Pushes for Big, Hairy, Audacious Goals (BHAGs)

Always strives for a defined vision

  • Without a vision, activity can’t lead to success
  • A vision continually changes and adapts to match reality
  • Successful people enjoy adapting the vision to the circumstances
  • Feels attached to a higher purpose

Jumps at every chance to prove themselves or try something new

  • Unafraid of making sacrifices for a more significant gain

Patiently running an endurance race to their desires instead of sprinting to their next completed task

Proper attitude


  • Generally happy and focuses feelings on solutions more than on problems
  • self-aware about feelings and sentiments
  • Has strategies for dealing with stress
  • Approaches failures and hardships effectively


  • Dedicated to a higher purpose more than personal interests
  • Keeps a connection to the world on a large scale


  • Defines behaviors by philosophical standards
  • Holds to virtues over circumstances
  • Understands place in the universe and isn’t trying to force changing it
  • Driven by internal factors more than external


  • Values enforced by morality drive actions
  • Balances personal life with a career and maintains a general focus on moderation
  • Imitates the attributes of other successful people


Stays positive about the future, others’ behaviors, and the unknown

Their most common emotion is overflowing happiness

  • Understands that 90% of a person’s problems never actually happen
  • Self-belief is entirely unaffected by failures

They see every adverse circumstance as an obstacle they can overcome with the right type of effort

  • Hopes for the best, plans for the worst
  • Thinks about the present and the very near future more than the past or far future
  • Looks at the distant future only to find opportunities or avoid tangible risks
  • Sees both past and present hurdles and challenges as opportunities to learn and grow

In the spectrum of optimism, successful people aim for practical optimism

  1. Blind optimism
    • A belief that things will inevitably work out, no matter what
    • The type of optimism pessimists usually envision
    • At its most extreme, it offends anyone aware of potential problems
    • e.g., “Let’s just keep going and stop thinking about it!”
  2. Practical optimism
    • Grateful for everything they have including employment, family, friends, health, food, time, and experiences
    • The most common optimism that successful people employ
    • A practical optimist can get along with anyone
    • e.g., “We’ve had a minor setback, but at least we didn’t lose the whole thing!”
  3. Negative optimism
    • Happy that things could be much worse, usually with dark thoughts mixed into it
    • Some personalities with rough-hewn backgrounds must use negative optimism
    • Negative optimism is a rare find and is often unsettling for many people
    • e.g., “Well, at least we’re not dead!”
  4. “Realistic” negativity
    • Desires practicality and accuracy over success
    • Most people carry this outlook
    • “Realistic negativity” isn’t overwhelmingly depressing to be around, but it slowly saps energy away from goals
    • e.g., “Well, I guess that’s just how it is. At least I tried.”
  5. Pure negativity
    • Guided by past problems and a resistance to change
    • Only other negative people can coexist with this attitude
    • Pure negativity is an indication of subconscious psychological issues
    • e.g., “I told you it wouldn’t work, and it won’t work if you try again. Just give up and save us the effort.”

Successful people treat others uniquely

Honors rules but understands their implications

Playing by the rules is a means to their end and not the end itself

Rules have purposes, and they honor the purposes of the rules more than the rules

Liberally gives to support others

Loves and cares for others through an overflow of desire and not as a compulsion or need

Focuses more on others’ lives than on themselves

Jumps at opportunities to forgive and reconcile

Works at long-term relationships with others

Creates distance from cynical and foolish people

Seeks out and befriends positive and inspiring people

Holds fast to worthwhile relationships and connections

Opens up to others about failures and never has a problem asking for help


Accessible about intentions, thoughts, feelings, concerns, and failures (when it’s called for)

  • This honesty is both directed toward oneself and others
  • Their accessibility even comes at the risk of losing money, hurting others or failing

Authority figures often either respect or despise candidly honest people when it doesn’t serve their interests

Integrity and reliability

Does what they say they will do

Desires to achieve excellent results and works hard to that end

Never compromises values

Immediately takes full responsibility for mistakes or failure when merited

Unapologetic for personal shortcomings but intentionally seeks out reconciliation with others

Ability to appropriately say “no”


Aware that who you know is more important than what you know

Always developing working relationships with others

Shares others’ achievements more quickly than their own

Focuses on the depth of their connections more than their breadth


Always maintains some sort of order in everything they touch

Knows that self-management has no “day off”


Observes themselves and how the world interacts with them

They see that if they are not part of a problem they have, there is no solution

Lives regret-free by either reconciling with the past or dismissing it

Knows that the best and most enjoyable things in life are free

  • Time with others
  • Happiness and joy
  • Learning and knowledge


Doesn’t speak out of turn or behave rudely

Charismatic, warm, open, and engaging

Respectful of others’ time, energy, and resources

Doesn’t expect or demand anything unreasonable from anyone

Tries to resolve conflicts as peacefully as possible

A successful person consistently adds new lifestyle habits


  • Makes time for what they consider important

Embraces creativity

  • Collects notes, ideas, pictures, and other immaterial elements minded towards an end purpose
  • Keeps a physical location that inspires relaxation
  • Journals thoughts, experiences, and ideas
  • Works in “seasons” with periods of fierce industriousness followed by periods of peace, learning or meditation

Works to improve their happiness

  • Engages in positive self-talk, finding motivations, and shutting down defeatist thinking
  • Spends time to relax and remove stress from their life
  • Wastes as little time as possible in indecision by either automating or eliminating unimportant decisions
  • Works on staying healthy and maintaining vitality
Next: Success 102: How To Start Your Own Success