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How to Define Success

I read financial media on a daily basis.  But outside of my fellow bloggers I never read self help financial media.  Why?  Well, it all starts with how I define success.

How I Defined Success as a Kid

More than twenty years ago my high school ran a poll to determine most likely to succeed for our senior class.  I remember voting on that success thinking that meant the winner would be a doctor or a lawyer.  That was my view of the pinnacle of success at a young age.

How I Define Success Now

Here we are 20 plus years later and my perception of success is completely different.  As essentially an internal consultant I make at least lower end doctor/lawyer money.  Even more interesting, I could easily leave the corporate world to be an external consultant.  Such a move would likely put me at the higher end of the specialized doctor pay scale.  

Higher Income is Not My Measure of Success

And yet I’ve made an active decision not to focus on increasing my pay.  I certainly have not dropped everything to enter the external consultant grinder.   Instead, I’ve focused more on holding steady while keeping enjoying time with my family.  So it’s clear that at present making more money is not a goal for me today.  

But I am Driven by Competition, I Just Define Success Differently

But I am highly success oriented.  In fact, I will tell you that I am extremely competitive person.    So if my goal is not more money at the expense of other things in my life, then obviously more money from where I sit today is not what I define as success.

I can tell you when I was a young 18-year old I would have defined success as more money.  My ceiling was not defined by my success goals so much as my understanding of what was possible at the time.

Success as a Goal of Financial Indepenedence while Enjoying the Ride

No, today my definition of success is to reach my retirement financial goal number while enjoying myself in the interim.  To have a meaningful and enjoyable time with my family.  And of course to just generally have a positive impact on others while I am here on earth.  In fact, I believe I continue to meet my definition of success.

How You Define Success Changes with Age

So we can establish that my own definition of success has changed over the years.   I’m not alone.  I was talking to a younger coworker today who indicated something similar.  Essentially he went from wanting a job for more money to wanting a more stable job since the birth of his child only a year ago.

Everyone Defines Success Differently Though Out their Life

But less you think everyone defines success following the same glide path given the similarities in my example, one needs only look at my definition of success of this site.  My goal has always been to have an enjoyable hobby.  My definition of success was and is to be part of the community.  Other bloggers have goals of making money off their site, replacing their day job, or even learning more about the topic at hand.  Even something as similar as a subset of blog targets leads to multiple definitions of success based on what people want to achieve. Life meanwhile is much more varied.

Set Goals and Make them Happen, Whatever They Are

Over the years I have highlighted repeatedly that the key to maximizing your own outcomes is to set goals and do what is necessary to achieve those goals.  The difference in success criteria above highlights that while everyone should set goals and actions.  Those goals and actions need to differ for each individual.

No One Size Fits All Path to Success, Since No One Defines Success the Same

Which brings me back to self-help financial literature.  The reality is any specific financial advice you find in these periodicals will only be applicable to the proportion of society that shares their definition of success.    They also will only be applicable in totality to someone that shares a similar situation to the writer.  The simple reality is there is no one size fits all set of steps to financial success.

All Financially Successful People Start with the Question: What are My Goals

This is why if you were to work with a good financial advisor, the first words out of their mouth should be what are your goals.  That’s before they do anything else.  Where do you want to go and where are you.  Only then can advice be given for your next steps.

So I Don’t Enjoy Financial Self-Help Books

So from my own perspective few if any financial self-help books are written that correlate to either my own position or my current definition of success.   Frankly, a book for someone doing ok financially that doesn’t define success as maximizing their money probably wouldn’t have much of a market.   The real money is in digging out of debt or getting rich, the extremes.  So I’m not holding out hope of a financial help book targeted at me.

And Yet I Do Enjoy Blogs

So while if I feel this way about financial help books do I still read and write blogs?    Well, while I take a negative view of purely self-help items, I also realize I don’t know everything nor have I seen every possible path forward.  Each person’s situation is different and the steps they need to take to succeed will be at least somewhat different than my own.  But..

Adapting Pieces of Other Peoples Paths to Success

By observing what others do in their own situations you may find actions that can be adapted to your own situation.     So many blogs write from different contexts and positions in life.    And each person has a different approach.  It’s observing those differences and adapting those that work for you that provides the real value in improving your situation.  Reading blogs allows me to take in many of those different perspectives in a short period.

The Table Stakes to Financial Survival Don’t Change, But Everything Else Does

Now, none of this takes away from the basic need to not spend more than you take in.  Nor the need to increase your income if you don’t make enough to meet those needs while saving for the future.  But those are table stakes.  Everything else is about experimenting to find out what works for you or tips for new financial instruments or actions you can utilize.

Do you read self help financial books?  How do you define Success?


  1. steveark
    steveark April 27, 2020

    I find in my slightly early retirement that defining success is even harder than when I was in the corporate world. Then I either had a goal of a job I was working toward or a lot of corporate goals to accomplish. I tended to look at how the company I was running was doing to determine what success looked like at work. At home success was keeping a great marriage going and raising good adults from kids. But now the kids are grown, I already have lived my dream career and my one day a week of work is just for fun. I’m very happy, but I’m also less motivated than I used to be to achieve things.

    • FullTimeFinance
      FullTimeFinance May 3, 2020

      Great example. I haven’t done the retired thing yet, but I’m sure my goals will change dramatically.

  2. freddy smidlap
    freddy smidlap April 28, 2020

    i read your money or your life a 4-5 years ago even though i was familiar with the concepts. i doubt i will read any more of them any time soon. i really only read finance blogs for the personal side and not the advice side.

    success is sure a moving target. a happy home life had to be success #1 for me. i like going home from a job i don’t mind to a place where somebody is nice to me. the money stuff came in degrees. when we had a full emergency fund that was a win. when we saved and essentially paid cash for travel or large purchases that was one more. i suppose we’re near financial independence but i don’t mind work so i’ll keep at it for the cushion and the extras in retirement. i write a little blog and that is successful by interaction or at least one person saying they learned something or saw something in a different light because of what i wrote. or even if they had a chuckle.

    • FullTimeFinance
      FullTimeFinance May 3, 2020

      Nothing beats that feeling when someone says you’ve helped them through your writing.

  3. Thrifty Hustler
    Thrifty Hustler May 7, 2020


    So true! Our definition of success change as we grow older. As I read this post, I remembered how I used to define success when I was younger. It was all about getting the promotion in my job. Now, I find myself setting new goals in life which are both financial and about my overall well-being.


    • FullTimeFinance
      FullTimeFinance May 9, 2020

      Sounds like you are about where we are these days. I doubt my 20 year old self would have ever envisioned my nearly 40 year old decisions or the reasons why.

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