How to define success

How to Define Success in your Business

If you’re like me you’ve probably read more books and posts about how to build a successful business than you can possibly remember or absorb.  It seems we’re attracted to bite size morsels of inspiration, tactical fixes or improvements that we can easily understand and implement quickly.  Like mosquitoes drawn to the glow of a bug zapper over and over again, we think that if we just knew 10 more secrets to – fill in the blank – then we would be closer to a ‘successful business’ than we were before.

The vast majority of the information you read about success in business doesn’t actually bother to take the time to define what success actually is.  More often than not it’s generalized as a movement toward financial gain, the growth of scale and influence.  While these are certainly important factors in the success of any business, they don’t answer the question “why?”.  Why do you do what you do?  Why do you make what you make?  Although the answer to this question can be summed up in one single word, the journey to discover its meaning requires not only a look at your business, but a look at yourself.

“Asking Why will help refine your definition of success, which can quite literally change your business and your life.”

Typically, success in business is prescribed by focusing on the attributes rather than the definition.  Adam Grant describes these attributes as “the individual drivers of success: passion, hard work, talent, and luck” in his book Give and Take: Why Helping Others Drives Success.  We can find countless resources and quotes that will inspire us to embrace perseverance, failure, and a drive to win that will carry us to success, but they don’t answer the question we really should be asking first – What Is Success?

Let’s look at three of the world’s most successful people, according to the “individual” standard, and see what their definition of success in business looks like:

Melinda Gates
Melinda Gates

“If you are successful, it is because somewhere, sometime, someone gave you a life or an idea that started you in the right direction.  Remember also that you are indebted to life until you help some less fortunate person, just as you were helped.”

Oprah Winfrey
Oprah Winfrey

“The key to realizing a dream is to focus not on success but significance – and then even the small steps and little victories along your path will take on greater meaning.”

Albert Einsten

“Try not to become a man of success, but rather try to become a man of value.”


Remarkably, these successful people don’t offer to define success because they understand that true success is determined by the application of a much greater word. GIVE.  When we create a foundation for our business on giving value and making an impact on others it changes our perspective on success because it unites our individual drivers with a purpose. WHY+HOW+WHAT.  When you discover this secret formula to success in business, you’ll find you’ve also discovered your definition of success in life.

“Success in business and life is not determined by what we make, receive or acquire, but how we use them to give, teach and inspire.”

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