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”? The truth is, once you answer that question, it’s not difficult to actually achieve it.

Now I understand that 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 and financial balance will elude you. 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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{ 20 comments… read them below or add one }

Jay-Ash June 1, 2012 at 10:57 AM

The below quote by Ralph Waldo was my ideal definition of success for a long time when I was younger. But after marrying and assuming more family obligations, such simple things like making a decent living and being able to provide for my family have become relevant to my definition. Thank you for that post, Neal, very thought-provoking indeed.

” To laugh often and much; To win the respect of intelligent people and the affeTo ction of children; To earn the appreciation 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.”
Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803 – 1882) American Essayist & Poet


Neal Frankle June 1, 2012 at 11:12 AM


WOW. That is powerful.

Thank you for taking the time to share this!



benitez February 7, 2010 at 11:22 AM

to be contented with small things means to be successful to me


Simple Wordpress Themes November 20, 2009 at 12:02 AM

Keep working ,great job!


Walter November 8, 2009 at 11:33 PM

Success is achieving our aspirations in life and getting through the many hindrances inherent in its pursuit. If one is able to materialize a dream in his/her mind, then such is success. :-)


Millionaire Acts November 7, 2009 at 11:08 PM

There are a lot of success definitions. There are “financial success”, “social success”, “health success”, and “spiritual success”.

Financial success talk about the success when it comes to money.

Social success talks about the success of your relationship – your friends, family, relatives, and special someone.

Health success talks about becoming healthy and free from illness.

Spiritual success talks about your relationship with the above.

I’m not sure if there’s any person who have achieved all these kinds of successes but if achieved, this will be the ideal definition of a successful person for me.

Anyway, I think we have the same niche and topics on both our blogs. I hope you can visit mine as well. :)


Financial Samurai November 5, 2009 at 9:15 AM

Hola Neal,

Success to me is finding happiness in having no more desires.

Best, FS


Neal November 6, 2009 at 3:53 AM

Profound FS. Nice.


John Doe November 5, 2009 at 8:11 AM

Yes, success is definitely a tougher question that I thought!


Ben Cope November 5, 2009 at 8:07 AM

Hey Neal! Thanks so much for sharing this post. Very inspirational indeed.


dp November 5, 2009 at 6:00 AM

Acheiving balance…… I make a living doing what I love and certainly make a difference in doing it.

Where I often stumble is balancing that effectively with home, family, hobbies, etc. Typical juggle of the working-Mom.

(career is great, house is a wreck, toddler’s eating french-fries AGAIN, and I ran out the door to work wearing two different shoes….)


Ken November 5, 2009 at 2:43 AM

I think success is living a life based on my values. I think mine are being a great husband and dad. I also think it’s providing for the day to day needs of my family. It’s also having the wisdom to be prepared for tomorrow as well. For me it’s living a life that pleases God as well. Great post!


Neal November 4, 2009 at 10:01 AM


I actually think your formula is a strong one. If my definition of success was to cure cancer or something, I’d be nuts. Your goals of being able to care for your family and be able to sleep at night seem to be spot on. That’s really close to my personal definition.


Joel November 4, 2009 at 8:55 AM

When I was young and idealistic, I thought success was all about Making a Difference, and money was a distant consideration. Anyone who cared about money, I thought, was materialistic and superficial.

But now that I have a family, I see that money is more important. So I guess my definition would be to make enough money to provide for my family to live comfortably — while doing something that allows me to sleep at night. Maybe the bar is a little low, but it’s where I’m at for now.


Neal November 4, 2009 at 7:54 AM

Great stuff Gregg. I likey…


Gregg Berger November 4, 2009 at 7:40 AM

There’s a placard on our refrigerator which reminds my family
“There is no success outside the home that will make up for a failure within the home”
Below that is another
“The hardest arithmetic to master is that which enables us to count our blessings” ~ Eric Hoffer


Neal November 4, 2009 at 5:45 AM

Mike….I love it! That’s pretty powerful man!

(Might have to “borrow” that….)


Mike Piper November 4, 2009 at 5:29 AM

Woohoo! I love Pilgrim Challenges. 😉

Here’s mine in writing and in public:

Make a living doing what I love.
Make a difference doing what I love.


Henery Schaffer November 4, 2009 at 4:57 AM

Well said


Neal November 19, 2009 at 8:27 PM

Sounds good to me. Worthy goals.


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