10/07/2014 07:43 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Say Yes to Success, But Define It First

"Success is doing what you want, when you want, where you want, with whom you want, as much as you want." - Tony Robbins

I've recently found myself bothered by the limited definition of success as defined by what seems to be most of society. This could come across as extremely trite and even naive, but why is it that wealth and material accumulation has become the sole definition of someone who has "made it"? I remember starting college over a decade ago (holy shit) and when I wrote a description of what I hoped for in my future, I wrote "someday I hope to find a career that I am happy to wake up to each morning." Maybe I'm really lucky that even though I never lacked any needs and could maybe even have been considered well off growing up, my parents never let me forget that money was not meant to be everything in life. Any goal I've ever set for myself has never been mutually inclusive with getting rich. That was true of me as a child, as a young adult starting college, and now, as someone at 30.

I am not against capitalism. I am not judgmental towards anyone who does want a lot of money and things. If that's their goal and they achieved it, then I would define that as successful. On that same note, if all someone ever wanted was a spouse, children, and to be part of a family, and they now have that, I find that to be equally successful. It irks me that someone who becomes the CEO of a company would be seen as more successful than the stay-at-home mother who wanted to be one and is. I simply believe that the correlation of having achieved what you've wanted should be directly related to judgment of your success.

I don't for one minute believe that anyone who hasn't gotten rich must never have wanted it enough, or must not work hard. I suppose this is the liberal, tree-hugging, left-winger in me. If I did believe that, I'd have no reason to ever have wanted to be a writer, teacher, or any other job wherein the calling is stronger than the cost. And if we perpetuate this notion, we'll push people away from careers that are fulfilling but don't pay enough to be considered something worth striving for. We'd have no aspiring social workers, firefighters, teachers, policemen, etc., and that is not a world I want to be part of.

Striving for more money, things, and status when what you really want is purpose, love, and structure is not more successful than just achieving the latter because the latter is what you actually want. I also don't pretend to be unaware that some people want it all. Some want the money, the things, the status, and the family - that's fine, too. Earn it all, and in my eyes, you're at the same level of achievement of anyone who has ever had a sole desire, worked for it, and earned it.

A friend once told me that her child said she could not be as smart as her best friend because her friend lives in a bigger house than they do. She was taken aback because prior to her son saying that, she never knew that's how he viewed intelligence and success. And I was sad for her, because she's one of the smartest people I know and she has a degree in English out of love for the subject, and not a desire to have a bigger house than she already does. I hope one day her son will see the infinite value in the pursuit of her passion, rather than what he originally saw. I hope we build a world that changes his mind. I hope I'm not being uselessly optimistic that we will.

In the list I found below, I noticed that not one of the standards has anything to do with material or money. This is what it should be.


I think the only way to be a failure is to know what you want yet to have done nothing to achieve it. Even if you're hindered during an attempt to get there, and even if you're still trying, if you're striving for something you truly want, you're already successful. If you earn it, you're that much more.