Has The Word ‘Success’ Lost Its Meaning?


I haven’t heard anyone ask, “How can I be more successful?” in a long time. At least not in those words specifically. It makes me wonder, has the idea of success become meaningless to people?

Marianne Williamson said, “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us.”

What she was saying is that people fear the idea of success even more than they fear failure. They are afraid of what will happen when they become successful. How will their life change? How will their relationships change? The unknown can be a frightening thing. The saying, “Better the devil that you know (than the one you don’t)” comes to mind.

I feel just as many people shy away from the idea of, and the word, “success” because they don’t have any idea what being successful really means – or worse, their idea of success goes against their values.

Years ago, my only personal examples of so-called “success” were people in my life who had risen in their careers or built big companies and in the process, had demonstrated characteristics of conceit, selfishness, and greed. They were criticized by their friends and family for “selling out,” being dishonest, and turning their backs on the people who’d supported them before they had become successful. The LAST thing I wanted was to be like them. Subconsciously, I held myself back from making “too much” money, for fear that I would be like them.

Later, I worked with a coach who helped me see how and why I’d been self-sabotaging my own success. I learned to change that defective programming in my brain and to accept that success was not a bad thing. Money was not the root of all evil. People were not “filthy” because they were rich. And achieving professional success did not mean lying, cheating, or using other people for one’s own gain.

With my coach’s help, I began to embrace and accept the word success so completely that I began to study how to be more successful. I devoured Jack Canfield’s book “The Success Principles,” practiced his principles, took his training, and even went on to become a Jack Canfield Success Principles certified trainer myself.

When I completed the Canfield Train the Trainer program, I called myself a “Success Coach.” I thought it was an accurate title. I was teaching people to use and integrate success principles. I was building a solid track record of helping others achieve success in multiple areas of their life.

But over the past few years I’ve noticed the word success seems to have become almost meaningless to many. It’s been overused and taken for granted.

The reason is many have not taken the time to define what success means to them. They haven’t made it personal. They look at other people’s definitions of success and say, “That’s not for me.” They don’t want to be materialistic, or greedy, or self-centered. They think success has to involve making a great deal of money, or being in the lime-light, or building a huge company.

The problem with this is that, without a guiding principle, a general idea of what you’re trying to create in your life, you may never feel satisfied and fulfilled. Without knowing what success looks like for you, and therefore not knowing if and when you achieve it, you may always just be striving for “more” in a meaningless pursuit of the next thing.

Success is a personal experience. What success looks like for you, may not be the same as what success looks like for me. There are probably about as many different versions of success as there are people on earth.

As well, your idea of success can change depending on what stage of life you happen to currently be in. I remember feeling successful years ago as a stay-at-home mom if my kids were fed, clothed, safe, healthy, and they felt loved at the end of each day. Now that they are adults, my personal feelings of success and fulfilment are no longer directly tied to their circumstances.

Self-made millionaire, Grant Cardone said, “Success is freedom. Freedom to make choices, decisions, where you will live, who you will surround yourself with, time with family, exciting business deals, learning constantly, pushing yourself to reach your fullest potential and then looking for other ways to repeat this.”

The infamous coach, John Wooden said, “Success is peace of mind which is a direct result of self-satisfaction in knowing you did your best to become the best you are capable of becoming.”

To help you identify what your definition of success might be, do what Stephen Covey, best-selling author of the book “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People” suggests – begin with the end in mind. Think of yourself reflecting back over your life at the end of your life.

What will you be proud that you have accomplished?
Who will you have become?
What are some characteristics that you will have developed?
What are the values you will have upheld?
What principles will you have lived by?

Your definition of success is likely to be a reflection of your life purpose combined with your values, and may be ever-changing. But no matter what that is or may be, the most important thing is to become aware of what success means to you right now and to live by that definition as you set your goals and direction for your life going forward.