What Is Success?


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This past weekend I was browsing through my RSS reader, and I came across an interesting post titled What is success? Impact.

The author is basically questioning what should be considered success (on a professional level), and he comes to the conclusion that success should be measured as the positive impact his work will have upon the lives of other people.

The article caught my attention because I have the exact same opinion.

Obviously I don’t think there is right or wrong as to how we define success. The term itself is a subjective thing, so what success means to you might be different from what it means to me or other people, and this is perfectly fine.

That being said, I think it is useful to discuss about such definitions, because it helps us to analyze whether or not we are moving in the right direction.

For example, most people tend to equate success with money. That is, the more money you make, the more successful you are. But under this definition one could argue that a drug dealer who makes millions of dollars annually is a very successful person. I don’t agree with this. I could give you that such drug dealer is a savvy businessman, but I wouldn’t call him successful, because the impact he has on the life of other people is actually a very negative one. The same thing could be said about online spammers, scammers and so on.

Now take Linus Torvalds as another example. He is the founder of the Linux movement, which created one of the most successful open source projects to date, and enabled millions of people to use a free and very reliable operating system. I am not sure how rich he is, but even if he was broke I would call him a successful person, because he had a huge impact on the lives of people from around the world.

Note that these things are not mutually exclusive either. In other words, it is possible to make a lot of money and have a positive impact in the lives of many people at the same time (and often times they go together). Just think about Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Jeff Bezos, Larry Page and Sergei Brin.

But, I suspect that these folks were first and foremost motivated by the possibility of making something big that would impact many people. As Steve Jobs say, by the possibility of putting a dent in the universe. Sure, they were no philanthropists, so the money was welcome too, but I don’t think it was the only nor the main thing they were pursuing.

Which leads us to one question: are you working to make as much money as possible, or to make as big an impact as possible?

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57 Responses to “What Is Success?”

  • khush-Adsense Information

    Positive Impact is more important for me. Also considering the principle that money is only the by product of the service you provide to other people, I think the person who has positive impact and is providing useful service to other people will always have enough money.

  • Tim Lindop

    I think of an entrepenuer I know who made it rich founding a school for professional development in film and television. The consensus I have found among attendees is that the man is a con man, a liar, that he trades in bait and switch,writing course descriptions that had nothing to do with the courses, themselves. Yet, I and others continued to go to his workshops. Why? Because he hired working pros that provided attendees with inside info and jumpstarts to their careers. Was this man a success? His efforts produced great positive impact, yet he seemed incapable of telling the truth even when the names he attracted meant he didn´t need to. Oh, and he constantly disparaged those us who worked in the non profit sector as “amaturers.”

    I struggle every day trying to identify the meaning of success, and making money and doing good in my field are not automatic, in fact, counterproductive. Yet those I know who chose to make money seem to lead lives they will leave nothing of merit behind. Yet poverty is not an option for we who have families and want to retire, but helping others does ¨feel sooo good.” I have no idea.

  • Deena

    This is a great and important post but although I ALMOST agree with you, I don’t TOTALLY agree with you. Success cannot be measured by the amount of money you have made but when you gave examples of people who made an impact, it’s people who made an impact to a huge number of people.

    Considering that most of us will never make an impact on that many people, success needs to be defined differently or else the very large majority of the world has no fighting chance of being successful.

    I hope that I will be considered (by myself, God, whoever) successful when I am working hard to do my best with what I’m given in life. If I’m utilizing my talents and my time and energy here to make a positive impact, then I should think I am a great success.


    • Daniel Scocco

      I agree with you, and I don’t think that having a huge impact is necessary for success.

      I think “as big an impact as possible to you individually” is already enough to call it a success.

      So, as long as you do your best to improve this world, I would consider you a successful person.

  • Blog Angel a.k.a. Joella

    Impact eh? I think the biggest impact is made when are efforts are not necessarily about our goals and our success.

    We need to be user-focused when we blog, develop a product for online sale or start any kind of online business. That’s the kind of thinking that will have the biggest impact. Focus on “them”, what they need and how you can best meet those needs.

    That will make an impact and help lead you to the success you desire.

  • Gary David | Build Your List Fast

    Hi Daniel,

    Thanks for sharing this. Success equates to a lot of things. It can be money, things, results, etc. But for me, the only way that I can call myself successful is when I was able to accomplish my missions in life, not just monetary, business, but personally as well.

    Kind regards,


  • Roshan Ahmed

    Success is relative. I totally agree with the drug dealer story and I think a successful person is someone who is happy with what he has. I am not saying one should be sit home 24/7 and be happy with it, instead he should find peace in what he earns now and always work harder for helping others.

    I think it is not true that, more money= more success. Instead more money brings more responsibilities to the society, more tension etc.

  • Jennifer Brown Banks

    Very interesting topic. As a creative artist, I believe that impact on others’ lives will always be a way of defining success. However, I’d like to be financially “successful” too. I do think you can have both.

    I also subscribe to Ralph Waldo Emerson’s definition…success is living on your own terms.

  • Saki

    You can’t make influence if you are broke, and heavily in debt.
    So money is important to fulfill at least basic needs.

    But on the other hand, but most of the people care only about the money. For example, blogging, too many people are in it just for the money.

    But I think that their motivation is not as hight as motivation of people who want to make impact with their blog, also their blogs will be less unique.

  • Jeannie @ Take Childbirth Back

    I was asked this same in an interview a couple weeks ago. I was completely unprepared for it. “What is success to you, and are you successful?”

    I laughed out loud, smiling to myself, and started with a hearty “Yes.” Surely “no, I’m a loser and am not capable of accomplishing goals” was not the right answer! Then I verged on panic while wondering, why? Especially in light of my insecurities, the position I’m at in life, how I take responsibility for landing myself here, etc etc. Still smiling, “Yes, I am successful.” But then it came to me, and saved me, and it’s true:

    “Success is doing well that which you value.” I continued, “For some people that’s making a lot of money or achieving status, but others value different things. And whatever you value, you will work towards it. And when you do that and do it well, then you are successful.”

    *shrug* I like it. They seemed to like it. And it’s made me feel just a little better about some crippling insecurities. 🙂

  • Young

    This is an interesting topic for discussion. Usually, I think the more money you have, the bigger impact you have, and the bigger impact you have, the more money you have. I prefer to the WIN-WIN situation.

  • Febap Liew

    my definition to success is personally by making as much money as i can..however, money is not the case. instead it is what money can bring that will rate my success. with money i will be able to lavish my love ones unconditionally, with money i would be able to donate to charity without any hesitation, with money, i could live the life i have always dreamed of , with money, i could live a much more independent life and possibly help people in many other ways i can.

    to how somehow rate success personally i find is a very subjective matter as it is influenced by your beliefs or how you were brought up.
    inevitably, whatever we do, as long as we doing what is positive; unlike selling drugs and such, success will eventually flow in many ways possible. =)

  • Paul

    You can never achieve any success if you never set out to achieve anything at all. And success is something you can have every single day, if you simply set out to achieve things every single day.

  • Marek

    I’ve been thinking about success a lot lately as well. I think impact is a much better measure of professional success than money is. But for me, I can’t disconnect the question of professional success with the question of what makes a successful life more broadly. Where does happiness fit in? You can be a professional success without being happy, and you can be happy and unsuccessful.

    Can impact in a broader sense make for a successful life? As in, impacting people you come in contact with positively. I suppose it might, but I think it would vary a great deal from person to person. Only I know what will make me happy, etc.

    • Daniel Scocco

      I thought about connecting both things, but there are many points where they need to be separated.

      For example, a person could be extremely successful professionally, but a failure at a personal level. Imagine a doctor who works 24/7. After 20 years he manages to find the cure for a disease, but his marriage is gone, he lost contact with his kids and so on.

  • Julius

    I think that as we grow older, we tend to associate success with the number of people we have helped and influenced to do good. This is my belief now, but it was very different 10 or 15 years ago. Back then success meant a lot of money and material things.

    • Daniel Scocco

      Yes age does play a role, as wisdom comes with the winters you go through.

  • Akie A.

    In my mind it all depends on the legacy you want to leave behind. You might not consider the drug dealer successful but in his eyes, he has made it! I agree with the robot that anyone you talk to will have a percentage of these two. Being in a position where I can be a blessing to others is my definition of success. I guess that’s also why a lot of people equate money to success.

  • Patriots Draft

    My aim is to make money… to do that, I have to provide a service and run a good site. Can’t have A without B.

  • Mehmet

    My definition of success is when you feel like you have accomplished the goals you set out to do in the beginning.

  • thebloggingrobot

    I think that no matter who you speak with, the answer is always some percentage of both of these items. Also, those who make great amounts of money have usually made great impact by default, but not necessarily vice versa. Interesting concept.

  • Georzetta

    While I admire your goal of wanting to make a positive impact on those around you, I don’t see how that can possibly be measured or evaluated.

    I think that we can actively work toward the light and the positive in our own lives it is entirely up to other people how they interpret the work.

    Evaluating your success on external judgments only could be tremendously destructive. How would one even begin to define “positive impact?”

  • Devi

    If I am doing the what i want to do, and i am doing it just the way i want to do it, and i am consciously happy doing it, (hoping i am not doing anything wrong), then i consider myself successful.

  • Gal @ Equally Happy

    Success is you being happy with what you do. No one else can measure your self worth but you. If that drug dealer is happy with himself and leads a happy life then he’s successful. Of course, the odds of leading a happy life while dealing drugs are pretty darn low but still. Self worth, success and happiness and are subjective things.

    • Daniel Scocco

      I would disagree that a happy drug dealer is a successful person.

      • Jade De los Santos

        I firmly believe that success here in the world is not only measured by your own happiness but on how you made other people happy. It is on how you became an instrument that brought peace in their hearts and minds.Self-satisfaction is not our main purpose here in the world.We should not confuse ourselves that success is only measured on how much money you have.However,money still plays a big role.but,one can make impact to the society even though he or she don’t have much money.Just simply reflect what God wants you to reflect unto them.

  • David


    I always considered the definition of success the extent to which you achieve your aims but this just shifts the question to what should be your aim. For example if a drug dealers aim is to make money and he does then you can’t deny that he has been successful.

    Also the aim of the economic systems employed throughout most of the developed world is to create a system whereby only considering how to make the most money for yourself will align your interests with positively impacting the wider community. That is if you do something that benefits people they will be willing to pay for it hence making your richer and similarly if you do want to do something which will negatively affect someone, like have their car, you have to pay them for it. This is basically a stronger version what you said at the end of your post, that’s is that not only are they not mutually exclusive but they directly linked (or should be if we have an adequate legal framework – ie drug dealing is illegal, high taxes on things that cause pollution)

    • Daniel Scocco

      Interesting point about the economic system trying to align both things.

  • Jerry

    I am working towards both at once – at Clickanthropy the more money we earn the greater impact our community can have in the world.

    Thanks for your insight.

  • Dinesh

    Since we can’t make huge impact on others, I think it’s better to define our goals within our limits initially.

    Setting goals can be earning money, traffic, and community around a blog or at least small impact on our readers. When you reach your goals, it is called success.

    Now, again set goals and achieve them.

    Maintaining this loop in blogging will make us ‘Successful bloggers’. We can’t see one more Bill Gates, Steve Jobs or even Daniel to make huge impact on us in our life time, correct?

    • Daniel Scocco

      You should believe more in yourself man. Anything is possible 🙂 .

  • Madden 11

    This message is very well written.I am very interested in the theme blog.It’s first visit on your blog.First time i saw your blog and what a great post that was! Thanks for blogging.

  • Simon Croft

    Hi Daniel,

    I think the two can go hand in hand but personally I would like to remembered for helping others rather than someone that made millions of dollars online.

    These days with the internet, I think the more positive impact you have, the more value you give to a community or a society, the more followers you will have and yes, the more money that could be made, the right way.

    Good analogy though with the drug dealer, agree with everything you said.

    Kind regards


    • Daniel Scocco

      I agree, people who have a great impact on the lives of other people usually have the option to make a lot of money thanks to it.

  • Steve

    For me, I follow what John Wooden says” Success is peace of mind which is a direct result of self-satisfaction in knowing you made the effort to become the best of which you are capable.” The pyramid of success is great tool to keep you focus.

    • Daniel Scocco

      That is another good definition.

  • mohsin

    The impact is more important for me.
    It doesn’t matter if I earn less bucks than my fellow bloggers. What matter most, to me, is the impression my work leaves !

  • Nabeel | Create Your First Website

    Excellent point you raise up there Daniel.

    It is a true reality that for many people, money is the only factor and determinant for success. They equate money with success. While I think it is true that to some extent it is necessary and there is nothing wrong with a monetary goal, it should not be the be-all and end-all.

    There are many, many more faces of success. And as you mentioned ‘Obviously I don’t think there is right or wrong as to how we define success. The term itself is a subjective thing, so what success means to you might be different from what it means to me or other people, and this is perfectly fine.’


    • Gary David | Build Your List Fast

      That was a swift comment Nabeel. I agree with you on this one. Most people sees success as equivalent to money that they earned, while there’s nothing wrong with that, but the thing is, they’re also missing on some important details of success as well.

  • vijay

    My opinion of success is same!
    If you have impact of your work on others and if this is a positive impact which changed their life forever then I would say you are the most successful person.

    Work for your satisfaction not for money!


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