Are You Defining Success By What Matters To You?

Word definition successfulHow often do you stop to think about your success? How do you define it? As you may have surmised from the name of this site, I’ve broadly reimagined success as “your career, your life, your way.” It’s a position that has guided me for a long time, and is rooted in my philosophy of personal responsibility: “It’s your life, own it.”

I’ve lived much of my life based on this idea. So, I tend to take for granted that true success is achieving meaning and fulfillment based on personal choice and self-direction. It’s my bias, and has shaded my perceptions, making it easy to see evidence for it in my work with clients, over social media, and especially in what I read.

Believing that conforming to defined roles in compliance with organizational authority limits freedom, I saw in Dan Pink’s Free Agent Nation, the dawn of true independence. Added to the mix was my work in personal branding. I saw with many clients that “permission to be yourself” resonated. It made sense in helping them map their career strategy, stand out, and gain more visibility and credibility.

My thinking became more firmly entrenched when I read Seth Godin’s Linchpin, and was reinforced again, recently, with Reid Hoffman’s The Start-up of You.  It seemed to me that even more people would see that they essentially work for themselves, allowing them to fashion a better quality of work and life than at any point in the history of Corporate America. It seemed we’d truly entered a new age of self-determination and a redefinition of success. [Tweet This]

But appearances can be deceiving.

For me, the wake up call came in the form of a couple of recent blog posts with advice on climbing the career ladder. Frankly, I do realize that there are many organizations where that idea is alive and well. Still, a narrow focus on getting to the top seems strange in a time when people seek to make a difference. [Tweet This]

So, I decided to take a closer look. What I found is that – in large organizations, at least – success definitions have remained remarkably consistent over the years. In fact, in a global study done by Accenture, success definitions included: having it all, work-life balance, flexible schedules, rewarding workplaces, pay raises, and vacations. Among the results, 70 percent of both women and men reported a belief that they can “have it all” – that is, have a successful career as well as a full life outside work. Of course, 50 percent said it’s not possible to have it all at the same time.

I don’t know how you see it, but what’s remarkable to me is that, besides being cliché, these definitions are so narrow – and mainly work driven. What’s more, they really don’t tell the whole story.

Thankfully, I was reminded of that, recently, over lunch with a client turned friend. In conveying her experience, it was clear that it actually is possible to find meaningful and fulfilling work inside of big organizations. It always involves using your talent to produce results, and maybe also a little luck. Ultimately, though, worthwhile success doesn’t reside in the tired categories of some study. Rather, it’s found in living true to one’s principles, and bravely putting them in service to others. [Tweet This]


What’s your personal definition of success? Leave a comment and let me know. And if you’re interested in finding strategies for more career success, consider my Career/Life Strategy coaching.


  1. says

    Dear Walter,
    As usual, I love it! I’d love to quote you in MY blog. May I? “[M]y philosophy of personal responsibility: “It’s your life, own it.” Mine, too, but you captured it beautifully. Many thanks always for your brilliance and insightful blogs!

  2. says

    Dear Kimberly, Thanks for your kind words on this post … and yes!! Please do quote me on your blog. I would love that! You know, it doesn’t surprise me that you have a similar philosophy because you shine with a brilliant bravery that is an inspiration to all who meet you!! I hope you don’t mind, but I am posting this link to your “Zero To Breast Cancer” Blog. I hope others will subscribe and be inspired:

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