How to find your true Definition of Success

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This article is by life coach Antonio Esposito who has some tips to share on what ‘success’ means for different people.

Standing in front of a small window protected by eight tick bars made of strong steel, Mark is looking outside. Day after day, the same view. Night and day, the same boring car park. Nothing is changing—nothing, not even the cars’ position. That little window is the only connection to the world that Mark has had in the last twelve years.

I feel very sick today, and I am not sure why Julia says. I thought I was used to this chemo crap but, I have to admit, I am not. In the car, with her husband, Julia is heading back home from the hospital. One year has already passed since she was diagnosed with breast cancer, and since then, her life and the life of her family is not the same anymore.  

In a crowded lift, Alex and Simona are approaching the top of the Empire State Building. They celebrate their 5th anniversary together, and Alex grants Simona’s childhood desire to visit New York. The view up there is breathtaking. It feels like the world is under your feet, and everything seems possible. That view was for Alex the boost of courage he needed to fall on his knees and under the curious look of the other tourists, he looked straight into Simona’s eyes, and while holding a shiny diamond ring, he proposed: “will you marry me?“.

Mark, Julia, Alex and Simona, different people and different stories, you don’t know anything about them, more than what you just read, but let’s unleash our creativity.

Imagine for a moment you have the opportunity to question those people. Imagine you could ask Mark, Julia, Alex and Simona, those precise moments “what success means for you right now?” 

What do you think will be their answer?

Success: Objective vs Subjective 

Today, the word success is often overused. In My humble personal opinion, more often than not, it is also misplaced. 

Strictly speaking, the word success means to achieve something that we’ve planned to achieve. For instance, learning something new, losing some weight, cleaning the garden, beating a terminal disease and getting out of jail could be all defined as a form of success.

Now, whilst success is, in the end, a transition from where you are to where you want to be, we could still get the wrong idea about what the word success really means for us.  

It seems like nowadays, to be defined as “successful” a person must meet some specific criteria often consciously or unconsciously absorbed from the society we live in. 

I am sure at least once we have all thought something like: 

  • I am successful only if I have a six/seven-figure bank account
  • I am successful only If I have an ideal partner/marriage/love life
  • I am successful only if I have a specific type of body/weight
  • I am successful only if I reach a particular position in my career
  • I am successful only if I have a no. of followers on social media
  • I am successful only if by the age of 30 I have everything figured out!

Of course, there’s nothing wrong with these statements; however, it’s essential to be mindful that those ways of thinking could be true for someone, while completely false for someone else. 

If someone’s desire is to reach 20 million followers on Social Media, and this is their authentic and genuine definition of what success means for them, then so be it!

The problem could appear when we are trying to achieve something, not because we really want it but because we think it’s something that we must be, do, or have today to be considered a successful person.

For instance, because of what we see and experience every day through the media, we might start to believe that financial wealth is the real sign of success. We might wrongly generalise that EVERYONE with money is happy, satisfied and therefore successful in their lives.

By thinking in this way, we transform the word “success” into something objective. We start to see success not anymore as something related to the individual’s feelings, goals and desires but as a set of specific rules that must be followed.

As you probably know, objective and subjective are complete opposites. Anything objective sticks to the facts, but anything subjective has feelings attached to it. 

For instance, saying “it’s Monday” is an objective statement, nobody can deny that if it’s Monday, IT IS MONDAY! 

Instead, if we say “I hate Mondays” then this is a subjective opinion only valid for those who share those same feelings about Monday. In contrast, the same statement would be entirely false for every other person on the planet who is in love with the first day of the week.

Did I make the point or not yet?

Your Definition of Success

your successIf you are with me, it’s easy to understand that “success” in whatever shape or form is something utterly subjective.

The real definition of what success means for you cannot be found anywhere else rather than inside yourself.

This article aims to help you discover your true definition of success and while detaching yourself from the world’s view of success, take the actions you need to take to achieve your desires.

Self-awareness is the first step to success.

It is well recognised that the first step to success is self-awareness. Self-awareness includes a clear understanding of your strengths, purpose and your desires. This is of paramount importance because you cannot be happy measuring your success against others, nor can you be satisfied if you are chasing someone else’s dream and trying to adopt it as your own.

The meaning you attach to the word “success” must be crystal clear in your mind, heart, and soul. Hopefully, the activity below will help you to gain some insight into this matter.

Walking through time

walking through timeFind a quiet time, a moment when you can fully engage in this activity and with pen and paper start this life-changing process. 

Step 1 – Imagine you’re 90 years old, happy and healthy. You have the unique opportunity to explain to a 16 years old version of yourself what is for your definition of success and advising your younger self on what to do to have a successful life. 

Action: write the dialogue on paper and when you have done, for about 5 minutes, break your state by moving around. Maybe go to the kitchen to grab a cup of tea or coffee.

Step 2 – Now, let’s go back to the past. Imagine you are 16, the world is fantastic and exciting, and you also have a lot more wisdom received from the 90 years old version of yourself. 

You are 16 years old – what advice would you give to yourself today?

Action: Again, write the dialogue down on paper and when you have done, break your stare for others for 5 minutes before moving to step number 3.

Step 3 – Get back to the present moment. You are who you are; you have what you have. You moved around time, future, past and present; you spent time with yourself like never before. What did you learn? Be aware and write down everything that happened during this activity both at an intellectual and emotional level. 

When you feel ready, with an empowered level of awareness, ask yourself: What success truly means to me now? (write everything down)

Then, based on your new meaning, what needs to be done, changed, improved or ditched in your life, in your job, in your relationships, in your finances to move finally towards your authentic vision of success?

Your success and happiness lie in you. – Helen Keller


Eighteen more years before Mark will be a free man again. It’s a long time, but, despite his life mistakes, he decided to make the best out of his time in prison by building his own success. Having acquired a psychology degree today, Mark’s daily success is to help other inmates to overcome the jail’s struggles and to have the best possible life they can have.

The medical report was harsh. Despite the two years of chemo treatment, Julia probably has less than a year left to live. She did not care, apart from one thing. She wanted to see her son finishing university. 

Today, sitting with other parents, waiting for her son to receive that (certificate) was the only success she wanted to achieve. She did it. Now, all the past and future don’t count anymore. She is there; she made it, and she is happy now!

Five years passed for Alex and Simona since that day on the Empire state building. Their vision of success was to build a family, to have kids, a lovely house and enough money to grow their children and have a peaceful life. Six months after the vacation in New York, they have been offered a position as front line doctors in Malawi, to support kids in need.

Not a second thought, they packed and left. Today Alex and Simona’s definition of success is to give unconditional love and support to those kids without expecting anything in return. Today, for them, happiness is looking in each other’s eyes, and without saying a word, knowing that they are living the best life, they could ever imagine possible!

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