What is Success, Really?

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Photo by Mathew Schwartz on Unsplash

What is success…really? We laud people for being successful but we vilify them for chasing success and we applaud the brave soul who in their keynote claims they have settled for a modest life as a multi-millionaire angel investor in silicon valley and repented of their wicked pursuit of success. Why is it so complex? Its such a basic question and yet so many of us struggle to answer it earnestly and honestly.

If you ask google to define it for you it says success is:

  1. The accomplishment of an aim or purpose.
  2. The attainment of popularity or profit.
  3. A person or thing that achieves desired aims or attains prosperity.

This is a good start but doesn’t quite cover it. Is any achievement what we mean by success? Not really.

What we usually mean by success is some form of self-actualization. Becoming what we intended or worked towards. Have attained the achievement of a lifetime. With this in mind there is only one way to do this and its rather simple.

  1. Define a vision for life
  2. Make continuous and focused progress towards that aim.

Define your Vision

So what do you want? What do you want your life to look like in 10–20 years. For many people this can be the hardest question to answer. For those of us who are younger this can be a really tough question to answer. It involves putting aside all of the noise and doing some real soul work. There are many ways to identify them and they may change over time but for me it looks like this.

I want enough skill to attract and retain clients whose problems I find interesting. I want to make enough money to take care of my family and be giving to others. I want the freedom of schedule to travel.

But that’s just me. It will look different for you and that’s perfectly fine.

This may also change over time and that’s fine to. I’m currently 31. I’ve been in the design world for about 5 years now. This may look completely different when I am 40. It will certainly change when and if I have a spouse, kids, mortgage etc. and that’s alright. Life is a journey embrace change and define what you want out of your journey.


The second piece of the puzzle is that you are going to need to pivot. Not just once but over and over again. Eric Reis, an entrepreneur and author of The Lean Startup, defines a pivot as a change in strategy without a change in vision. We maintain our larger vision and adjust our next steps to accommodate and move us towards it.

For example, when I was a teenager and wanted to be a historian who consulted on historic films. When I learned that as a historian this would be an inconsistent opportunity. I decided to pivot to game development and design. I kept my vision for working on creative and entertaining things but changed the strategy of how I do it. I found some work in various companies but the pay was terrible and the hours long (I had one studio offer me ~50k a year but required 100–120 hours every 2 weeks…eeek). Time for another pivot. I didn’t want to give up creativite work but didn’t want to be broke either. So I started to learn to code and apply user-centered design to my work. I found UX work in a startup but realized my skills weren’t up to par. I needed some mentoring and skill development. Pivot! So I worked to get into a place that would help me grow and develop my skills and found it at Home Depot. Even internally I have shifted between teams and experimented with methods to try and grow myself and explore what I want in my working life.

Keep pivoting.


Life is too short and careers too fickle to chase anyone else’s definition of success. Don’t chase the definitions of anyone else. Also don’t be too attached to what you wanted in the past. Its okay to let things go as you change and develop.
Figure out what you want and what will bring you happiness then pivot until you get there. As you do you will find more and more of what you want and your vision will become clearer and clearer. You can do it.


  1. Pivot: The Only Move That Matters Is Your Next One by Jenny Blake
  2. So Good They Can’t Ignore You: Why Skills Trump Passion in the Quest for Work You Love by Cal New
  3. Inmates Have a Conversation with Rabbi Manis Friedman


In a conversation with inmates, Rabbi Friedman, a Chabad Lubavitcher rabbi, explained the difference between living and existing. He says that to exist is to take up space; concerned with your own needs. This is okay but it isn’t a life. As soon as someone else enters the picture it completely ruins your existence. If you are in a room by yourself you have a great existence. Look at all this room! But its not a life. To live is to accept and be concerned with the needs of others. This is what makes a life. As you consider what success looks like look not only to your own needs but to how you can improve the lives of the people around you.

Written by

A UX Designer in Atlanta focused on mentoring, modular UI and using python as a research method. www.alexgregorie.com

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