David Strittmatter

How a definition can change your life

Success is understanding that you control your destiny


  • Our social systems are built with harmful metrics of success
  • It doesn’t matter how somebody else defines success; you need to develop your very own metrics for it
  • By contemplating your own definition of success, you lay the foundation of a meaningful and happy life

Practical advice:

  • Imagine a person whom you believe has achieved true success as well as one who hasn’t. Use these people as templates.
  • Ask yourself: Why do you want to be successful?
  • Never judge yourself based on the conventional definition of success again

Dear friend,

In a recent article, I wrote about why you should measure your life, how that can increase your awareness of the things that really matter, and how that can improve your overall well-being.

Many of us, though, already measure a few things in life. Particularly, almost all of us have a measure of success.

But how do we actually define success?

I’m strongly convinced that we have to define success individually and don’t let society spoil our very own perception of being successful (or not). Moreover, I believe we all have to make a meaningful effort to find a suitable individual definition.

In today’s blog article, I want to share with you how you can become a significantly happier person by developing your own definition of success, provide you help to create that and implement it into your life, and give you my definition of success as inspiration.

Defining success

Society and, in particular, the media tell us that the rich, pretty, and intelligent people are whom we should aim for. Kim Kardashian, influencers, stars, athletes, business owners, etc. – these people are often associated with being successful.

In my view, that’s not only total crap but poison for our society. Our social systems are built with these harmful metrics of success, which we are virtually forced to follow if we don’t want to be perceived as a failure.

I stopped measuring success by means of monetary wealth, intelligence, or the way I look. Rather, I relate my actions to the social and global impact they have.

In my view, I am successful when I set ambitious goals (no happy accidents), work hard for them (meaningful effort), and contribute positively to society (McDonald’s creates great shareholder value but indirectly ruins the life of Millions of people).

Consequently, I wouldn’t perceive myself successful if I made tons of money by exploiting factory workers in Asia, got good grades and didn’t use them for creating societal welfare, or broadcasted a reality show and made billions by setting new beauty standards, making people get depressions, and selling cosmetics nobody needs.

A definition that has the potential to change your life

Nevertheless, it doesn’t matter how I or somebody else define success. If you want to enhance your well-being, you need to develop your very own metrics for success.

Don’t let anybody tell you how you have to live your life. Life is too short to let others spoil your limited time on Earth. If you steer towards metrics someone else determined, you live the life others set for you.

By contemplating your own definition of success, you lay the foundation of a meaningful and happy life. Social comparison is among the factors that make people the most unhappy. The conventional success definition is based on steady comparisons, whether it is money, aesthetics, achievements, or number of likes and followers.

Moreover, the societal definition of success doesn’t provide an answer to why. Why should you strive for monetary wealth, beauty, etc? Spoiler alert: Empirical studies have shown – for years – that these materialistic awesome things won’t make you happy but rather tend to make people feel more miserable.

If you incorporate a strong why in your success definition, you will have a metric that will support you throughout your life to be the happy person you want to be.

Find your own metrics of success

First, imagine a person whom you believe has achieved true success. Use this person as a template:

What does this person exactly do and whom does s/he directly and indirectly affect? For example, Bill Gates is the founder of Microsoft. His company affects, directly and indirectly, billions of people. What are the positive and negative effects of his actions? How did he achieve that? Why did he want to achieve it? Do you think he is a happy person?

Second, imagine a person whom you believe has achieved NO success. Use this person as a template to find out how success doesn’t look like. I, for instance, have a strong bias against celebrities like the Kardashians. In order to explore this prejudice, I asked myself why I think these people aren’t good for our society and framed my own success definition around the answers.

Third, ask yourself: Why do you want to be successful? Why should you strive for something that you define as success? As mentioned at the beginning, I use my success definition as a proxy for the global and social impact I want to have in this world. Being successful means contributing to a better world. And making this world at least a little better is what eventually makes me happy. Thus, being successful implies happiness.

But you should ask yourself the same questions. Do you want to maximize your happiness? Do you want to be famous? Do you want to be influential, powerful, inspirational, well-known, …

Use the outcomes of these three steps to devise your success definition. Then, from now on, you should never judge yourself based on the conventional definition of it again. Steer towards your metrics and advance towards a truly meaningful life.

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