Maya Angelou famously said, “Success is liking yourself, liking what you do, and liking how you do it.” (I love that.) Cheryl Strayed defines success by answering yes to these questions, as she told Manjula Martin in an interview in Scratch: Writers, Money, and the Art of Making a Living: “Have I done the work I needed to do? Did I do it as well as I could? Did I give it everything I had?”

What Strayed says next is especially powerful. Because we often confuse success with specific results—results that we don’t really have control over. As she explained to Martin, “And then other stuff happens—your book is on the bestseller list, or Oprah calls—or maybe not. Maybe it gets trashed in the New York Times. Or maybe it’s absolutely ignored by everyone, which happens. Those things are not about success. Those are about things that happen to you.”

Linda Joy, president/publisher of Aspire Magazine, defines success as “living with authenticity, passion and a sense of wonder. It means committing to only that which lights my fire, feeds my soul and challenges me to be my best. Success means…living my truth, sharing my gifts and making my unique contribution to the world” (as she said in this piece).

A few years ago, I interviewed psychologists about their views on success. John Duffy’s definition shifted dramatically over the years: “I used to think I had to accomplish something that others deemed ‘great’ in order to consider myself successful. Today, I find success in happiness, kindness, and helpfulness. I find success in loving, connected, available relationships, in my family and elsewhere in my life, including my relationship with myself.”

According to Deborah Serani, Psy.D, “success is when I set a realistic goal, enjoy the journey as it unfolds and dwell in the momentary satisfaction when it all comes together. From cooking a new recipe, to learning a new yoga pose or taking a challenge that stretches my comfort zone, it’s the entire experience that offers me a sense of well-being. Success can be found in little things and big things. The key is to enjoy the ride once you set out on your material or existential destination.”

For Christina Hibbert, Psy.D, success is “faith, love and joy,” which is her three-word motto. It’s “striving to do and be my personal best in work, family, and as a human being, forgiving myself when I’m not, picking myself back up, and diligently pressing forward again.”

In other words, there are countless definitions of success. You’ll find all sorts of perspectives from all sorts of people. Because success is personal. After all, it’s how we live our lives every day. And what could be more personal than that?

Success is not based on shoulds or have-tos. It is not defined by others—though it can seem like it is. We may mistake success for shiny things, big things. Huge house. Fancy car. Designer labels. Exotic getaways. Ivy league education. Thousands, millions of followers.

And maybe for some people, success is all these things. The key is that this kind of success—any kind of success—brings you satisfaction and meaning and joy. Because what’s the point if it doesn’t?

If you’re not sure about your own definition, here are some questions to consider:

  • What have you been told success is or looks like?
  • How do you feel about these definitions?
  • Which definitions in this piece resonate with you? Why?
  • Which definitions in this piece don’t resonate with you at all? How come?
  • If success is answering yes to certain questions (like it is for Strayed), what questions would you like to answer with a “yes”?
  • What words come to mind when you think of success?
  • What is success not?
  • What fulfills you?
  • What really matters to you?

Again, the only person who can define success is you. It is your vision. Your perspective. Your choice. Some people might try to convince you otherwise. That’s OK. You know better.

Photo by Artem Kovalev.