How Do You Define Success?

A college student in a cap and gown celebrating her definition of success

If you were to search for the term “success” on the internet, you would find millions of results, each presenting a different interpretation. For some, it means achieving a small goal or victory for the day. Others may view it positively impacting society, earning a college degree, or amassing wealth. So, how do you define success?

The Importance of Defining Your Success

Imagine scrolling through social media and seeing two different people living what appears to be seemingly perfect lives. One person recaps an exotic, month-long trip, while another shows off a grand achievement and celebrates with a fancy purchase. 

You might find yourself trying to copy them by buying expensive things, going on multiple vacations, and posting pictures on your social media to get “likes.” You may momentarily think this is how to reach true success. However, even after trying to mimic their version of success, you still feel incomplete.

The truth is your definition may never perfectly align with other people’s. Our unique goals, values, and priorities shape a distinct picture of what “successful” means for us. This is why defining your success is not only essential, but also empowering. The sooner you embark on this journey of self-discovery, the sooner you can channel your time and energy into pursuits that genuinely resonate with you. 

Three Inspirational Speakers Share Their Unique Definition of Success

The text "Red" overlayed with images of inspirational speakers

To understand how others define success and the path they take to achieve it, let’s look at three speakers who have participated in an educational series called RED Talk. This event is hosted by St. John’s University Career Services, located on the Queens, NY, campus. The ongoing series features accomplished professionals from different fields who share their personal and professional experiences, inspiring career conversations. 


I. Empowering Women’s Rights through Justice and Passion: Julie F.K.’s Inspiring Career Conversations for GenX 

“Finding my passion has been key to obtaining success in my career. Yet, equally important is avoiding boredom.”

—Julie F. Kay, Human Rights Attorney, and Author 


Summary: Ms. Kay reflects on the elusive nature of success and shares her journey through a career dedicated to justice and social equality. She introduces four pillars that have defined her sense of success, including a commitment to justice, a passion for her work, the importance of community, and the pursuit of balance. It’s a compelling exploration of success, offering valuable insights for anyone navigating their career journey.


II. From Creatively Selling Golf Balls to Chief Revenue Officer: Inspiring Career Conversations with Christine Martino for GenX

“I know someone is successful when they achieve their own goals and when they dare to follow their dreams and try to fulfill them as silly as they might be.”

—Christine Martino, Chief Revenue Officer, Screen Vision Media


Summary: Ms. Martino challenges traditional notions of success tied to wealth and fame. Instead, she explores the importance of sharing wisdom, resilience, and pursuing personal passions. Through entertaining anecdotes from her unconventional career, Ms. Martino inspires the audience to redefine success on their terms. The talk encourages viewers to rethink societal expectations and find fulfillment in their paths.


III. Challenging Implicit Biases on the Road to Success: Jennefer Witter’s Inspiring Career Conversations for GenX

“I don’t see success as Webster’s Dictionary defines it as ‘the attainment of wealth, favor, or eminence.’ More authentic action, understanding, education, and equal opportunities for everyone is a definition of success that I choose to live by.”

—Jennefer Witter, Chief Executive Officer and Founder, The Boreland Group Inc.

Summary: Ms. Witters explores the diverse interpretations of success and reflects on her experiences in the professional world, including the unexpected challenges she faced despite her hard work. The narrative unfolds into an exploration of implicit bias and its impact on careers. Her story is a compelling call to reevaluate our understanding of success and work toward a more inclusive and equitable future.

Common Themes  

Although each speaker has a different journey and definition of success, they all identify two common themes.

  • Success is entirely subjective. It is a highly individualized process shaped by personal experiences, values, and a broader perspective beyond traditional measures or societal expectations. 
  • Our definition of success constantly changes. As human beings, we are always going through life changes. Through each of these changes, our viewpoints of success will also change. This is because success is not a fixed destination but a journey. 


Ignite Your Journey to Success

Finding your definition of success isn’t an instantaneous process, but it’s a deeply rewarding one. Here are some tips to spark your introspection and guide you toward uncovering what truly matters to you: 

  • Connect with Your Authentic Self.

Reflect on your values and beliefs. These are the principles that guide your decisions and shape your actions. What are the core values that are most important to you? Success feels more meaningful and fulfilling when your actions and aspirations align with your inner compass. 

Pro Tip: Create a personal manifesto highlighting your top three values. Explore how these values manifest in your current life and consider ways to further integrate them into your actions for a stronger sense of success.

  • Map Your Journey.

Set both short-term and long-term goals. Short-term goals provide direction and a sense of progress, while long-term goals offer a vision for your desired future. Define what success looks like for you at various stages of your journey.

Pro Tip: Use tools like vision boards and goal-setting apps to visualize your success and track your progress.

  • Discover Your Spark.

Identify activities that ignite your passion. Passion is the fuel that propels you toward meaningful success. What activities genuinely excite you and make you lose track of time?  

Pro Tip: Leverage platforms like LinkedIn to connect with individuals who share your passions. Engage in discussions, join relevant groups, and let your enthusiasm shine. Networking with like-minded individuals can open doors to opportunities that align with your passions.


Redefining Success for a Fulfilling Journey 

As Julie F. Kay, Christine Martino, and Jennefer Witter have pointed out in their speeches, the road to success is a unique and ongoing journey. Trying to duplicate someone else’s definition of success often results in feeling dissatisfied and disconnected from our true selves. To achieve a personal sense of success that aligns with our values, goals, and genuine passions, we must first recognize and accept these aspects of ourselves.