What Is Your Definition of Success? (A Tougher Question than You Think)

by Neal Frankle, CFP ®

What your definition of success is, is actually your key to finding it. So how do you define “success”? You might want to gloss over this question (and post) – and if so, I understand.

You may have come to this blog for concrete information about how to improve your financial life, get a high credit score or make smarter investments. And you might not be interested in some ethereal discussion that doesn’t put dollars in your pocket today. If that’s how you’re feeling…great. You’re the one I mainly wrote this for. I really hope you stay with me.


Because unless and until you define what “success” means to you, you probably won’t ever have it. Imagine someone going on a trip but not knowing the destination. A tough proposition, right? If you can’t define what you want and your idea of success, how will you know when you find it?

I don’t think you can. That means you’ll never be satisfied. You’ll always have to keep searching. That’s no way to live, if you ask me. A constant life of agitation.

Think “financial success” is having a ton of money? W-R-O-N-G. Just ask Michael Jackson, Kurt Cobain, Howard Hughes and a host of other “rich” folks for whom money was no cure. (Oh…I forgot…you can’t…they’re all gone.) So we can conclude that creating wealth is not the end-all and be-all.

Think “doing what I love” is success? It could be, but I think you might be selling yourself short if you do. I love playing drums and I could do it full-time if I wanted to (as long as my family and I don’t mind living in the back of our 2002 Honda Odyssey).

I also love my work. But if that’s how I measure “success” and, as a result, I become a workaholic, don’t I miss out on a lot of life? Same thing goes with defining your success as “being happy.” Am I really “successful” if all I care about is me? So go ahead. Do yourself a favor. Spend a few minutes and think about what “success” means to you. Write it down.

I’m not kidding. I’m throwing down the Pilgrim Challenge. Take five minutes now and write it down. It’s work – but it’s worth it. Next assignment, call the folks in your family over the age of 16 and ask them the same thing (or just send them this post).

It may sound weird to you and them, but it will lead to a great conversation – and maybe one of the most important conversations you’ve ever had.

Care to share your definition of success? Have you ever spent time noodling this? What did you come up with? I’d really be interested.



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