The business world is fantastic. It's also challenging. Over the course of your career, you'll face ethical, cultural, political, and personal dilemmas in the workplace. You'll work with difficult people. You'll find yourself in compromising situations. You'll have to balance who you are as an individual with what your employer asks of you.
Can you stay true to who you are without sacrificing your success? Absolutely YES.
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Defining Success

Defining Success On Your Own Terms

No one can define success for you, except you.
But, oh, how others will try. 

Have you ever stopped to think, “Am I successful?”  If I asked you to define success for your life, you could likely paint a clear picture.  You might say that you want to be a loving spouse, a supportive parent, a good friend.  Chances are your vision of success would include achievement at work, a nice home, and financial security for your family.  

Now imagine that you’re asked what success looks like for you today, this week or this year?  It gets a little harder for most of us when we look at the now of our lives.  It’s more concrete than our lofty aspirations of a lifetime.  The tendency is to view near-term success in the what:  what you do, what you accomplish, what you have.  We’re wired to think about success in an achievement mindset.

I’m a big fan of achievement and success, in my life and in my work.  But I ask you, how often do you reach a goal and feel great in the moment, only to feel a nagging sense of discontent when the shine of the moment wears off?   In my life, I’ve found this to be true over and over.  It becomes a vicious cycle of what’s next?  What more do I suddenly want?  The cycle of achievement doesn’t feel like true success.  The measure of success is a moving target.
How can you define success for yourself, on your own terms?

Others Define Success For Us

When it comes to success, our views are largely framed by others in our life.  Often, we aren’t even aware of how much the expectations of others impact us.  We joke about “Keeping up with the Joneses,” but there’s no doubt that we unwittingly fall into patterns based on the people around us – and how they envision success for us.  We allow a tremendous amount of influence from our friends, family, and even the media to define success for us.  It’s a pattern played out from the time we’re toddlers, as we model what we believe to be acceptable behavior based on peer influences.

This scenario is also present in the workplace.  Your vision for success in your job is framed by your boss, but it also develops based on your peers’ views of success.  You begin to adapt your perspectives and behaviors as best you can, achieving success by aligning to the expectations of others.  The challenge is that all that adapting and achieving can cause you to lose sight of who you are.  You can forget to define success for yourself as a person.  You put your head down, focus on the goal at hand, and run hard at a successful outcome.  You push, you achieve, you pause to celebrate, and then… you start again?

Success On My Own Terms

I find that I need to go one step further in defining success for myself.  If I move beyond what I do and what I have, I’m left with who I am and how I am.  For me, success is a balance between what I achieve and how I achieve.  I can’t feel successful using society’s yardstick (or that of my employer) if I can’t look in the mirror and feel good about how I behaved in the pursuit of success.  Most people can recall choices they’ve made while pursuing a goal that didn’t feel “right” for them after the fact.  Maybe they bullied someone, stretched the truth, or treated someone disrespectfully.  There are many behaviors that leave collateral damage on the path to success.  When you’re in pursuit of something, you do what you need to do to achieve success.  But afterwards, you sometimes feel tarnished by the process.  This is when who you are, and how you are, comes into play.   

When was the last time you really thought about how you want to be perceived by others?  What words would you want someone to use in describing you?  What matters most to you, about who you are and how you interact with others?  What feels authentic and natural when you’re at your very best?   How do you define success for yourself as an individual, without relying on external measures of success?

For me, success is defined as consistently demonstrating specific characteristics I value, while achieving great things in my life and in my work.  If I’m unkind or lacking in gratitude, there’s no victory in achievement for me.  If I don’t apply my intelligence to solve a problem the right way vs. the easy way, success isn’t earned.  If I treat people as if they don’t matter, it’s an epic fail.  I could go on and on.  Just to be clear, I don’t get it right every time.  I wish I could say I do.  But I know what matters most to me, and I consider being authentic to that a primary marker of my success.  I try to make life choices based on whether a situation allows me to be the person I want to be.  As hard as it is to walk away from situations that don’t “fit” me anymore, I’m committed to do it to be successful in my life. 

I evaluate my success by all of the traditional measures of society.  This is evidenced by the many materialistic luxuries I’m quite certain I can’t live without.  I just also apply equal measure to who I am as a person when evaluating my success.  It allows my achievement of success to linger beyond a specific goal, a treasure, or a triumph.


If you define success for yourself, now and over the course of a lifetime, by not only what you do and what you have, but also by who you are and how you behave, you’re more likely to feel a genuine sense of satisfaction and success in your life.  When you know what you stand for and you demonstrate it in your interactions with others, you become authentic and gain confidence.  People are more likely to take notice of you and show respect for your conviction, even if they disagree with you in principle or action.  Success multiplies as a result. 

In nearly every workplace, the ability to be authentic is invaluable.  Allowing others to be authentic to their chosen path is equally invaluable.  This balanced view of success doesn’t guarantee you won’t feel pressure to conform to others’ views of success, personally or professionally.  It simply gives you clarity as to how far you’re willing to go in adapting to the expectations of others in order to be successful.  You find yourself being creative and finding new ways to achieve tangible results, so you can celebrate both the victory and the means to achieving it.

Defining success on your own terms gives you the ability to achieve every goal you have for your life, and feel good about yourself in the process.  Success starts to be defined by who you are vs. what you do or what you have.  The beauty of this is that it’s personal.  Every person gets to choose for themselves the characteristics and qualities that define success for them as an individual.  There is no right answer, and even more fantastic, there is no wrong answer.  It’s all up to you.  What could be better than that?

My best to you.

PS:  Need help getting started?  Email me at and I’ll share a worksheet to help you identify the characteristics that matter most to you as you define success on your own terms.