Personal Finance

How do you define success?

“You are who you believe yourself to be.” – Paulo Coelho

“What’s in a name?” asks Juliet during the iconic balcony scene from Romeo and Juliet. I’ve had plenty of opportunities to ponder that same question over the past few months as I’ve moved through the process of finalizing my divorce and reclaiming my maiden name and I’ve concluded that names are powerful things. Our names are our first identifiers, they link us to our parentage and to our lineage and they define a huge part of who we believe ourselves to be. There’s a reason that one of the first things we want to know about a newborn baby is their name and why using someone’s name when you’re in conversation is a proven strategy for building rapport. Our names identify who we are and this is why taking on a new name, for whatever reason, feels odd and often leads us to question and explore who this new person is in an effort to define and adapt to our new persona. For me, going back to my maiden name is both a reclamation of my past and a redefinition of my future because the (almost) 40-year-old woman I am now is very different from the twenty-something version of myself who last wore this name.

Success requires change

It’s very much a part of my personality to think about and question things and this name changing process has been no exception. The fact that it’s been accompanied by a fabulous new job opportunity and a move to the opposite side of the country has only amplified my desire to figure out who this new version of myself is, what drives her and what she aspires to be. What I’ve realized is that while the core of who we are might stay the same; what we believe and what we want can change dramatically. Knowing who we are, what drives us and what we’re working towards is crucial to success in life and especially in finances but often, unless our lives get shaken up, whether it’s by the loss of a job, a change in relationship or some other curveball, we don’t stop to question whether the picture of ourselves that we’ve been carrying needs to be updated. That’s my challenge to you this week.

How do you define success?

It’s not enough to aspire to create a solid financial future and to commit to building wealth. We have to know what achieving that goal looks like. If we don’t, how will we know when we get there? How will we accept our new financially successful persona and continue to grow if we’re still identifying with our old perceptions of our less successful self?

Related article: Four disciplines to financial success

When you think of a “financially successful” person what comes to mind: How much money do they make? What’s their net worth? Where does their money come from? How do they manage it? What kind of lifestyle do they enjoy? Are they philanthropic? Which charities/causes do they support? What drives them to build and hold wealth? How is the world a better place because of their success? Who do they share their success with? How will the legacy of their wealth and their knowledge continue after they pass away? Just like with any goal, the more clearly you define what it truly means to achieve success, the clearer the end result becomes and the more likely it is that you will succeed in reaching it.

Don’t be afraid to step well outside your comfort zone when you define success; goals need to be realistic and achievable but I believe they should also scare you a little – as my friend Joanne likes to remind me, there’s no growth in a comfort zone and no comfort in a growth zone. When I define success, it involves a net worth of more than a million dollars and a passive income in excess of $10,000/month. No debt, a simple day to day lifestyle that leaves plenty of money for travel and time with family along with a commitment to donating a significant amount of time and money to causes that mean a lot to me. That’s a long way from where I am right now but, with hard work it’s achievable. There are easier goals but I don’t want to settle. I’m a little stubborn that way!

Related article: How to get out of your comfort zone

If you’ve had trouble setting financial goals or sticking to them, coming up with your personal definition of success can provide you with a clearer mental picture that will act as a motivator. If you haven’t taken the time recently to question whether the path you’re on is actually taking you where you want to go then revisiting your definition of success might allow you to determine whether you need a change of direction. If you’re too caught up in focusing on what’s immediately in front of you and getting through the day to day and haven’t made time to take a look up at the horizon line then creating a definition of success can help re-ignite your motivation and passion for your path.

Related article: Setting financial goals

This is a strategy that can be applied to many areas of life, not just finances. Part of the value of having a mentor is that they give you living proof of what it’s possible to achieve. Creating your own definition of what it means to be a successful friend, parent, sibling or partner as well as what it means to be successful in your career or profession can bring your goals to life and help you to identify areas where a change of direction would give you even more potential for success.

I’m learning that the biggest changes in life can be the most powerful because of the way they force us to redefine and refocus our life direction. One of my favorite quotes reminds me that I’m a “human being, not a human doing” – why not spend a little time this week thinking about who you want to be? You may be surprised at what you discover.


  1. Steve

    I like your personal definition of success, “…When I define success, it involves a net worth of more than a million dollars and a passive income in excess of $10,000/month…” The only fly in the ointment might be that in order to generate that kind of passive monthly cashflow, you’d probably need north of 3 Million in assets cranking out moola,(above and beyond your ‘networth’ and assuming a 5% after tax yield on your money generating assets, excluding government or company pensions)… oh well, a gal’s gotta have a dream 🙂

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