What defines success?

By Kristin Allaben, Executive Assistant and Strategic Communications Specialist

In anticipation of my second son’s arrival (due in December), I recently started purging the house of all the items I’ve rarely used or looked at in the six years we’ve been in our house. This act of purging can be extremely refreshing, but that’s for another post.

Instead, I’m going to reflect on success – what is it? What defines it? Why is the allure of success so powerful that it drives us to do great things? Or, on the flip side, inspires feelings of frustration, dissatisfaction and failure?

These questions all came up because, during one of my recent purges, I came across my high school yearbook. I started flipping through the pages (I guess I couldn’t wait to cringe at 18-year old Kristin) and stumbled across the class superlatives section. Below the embarrassing and awkward picture of me posing with a fellow classmate read the title “Most likely to succeed.”

I admit, I struggled with that over the last few years. Voted “most likely to succeed” by my high school classmates didn’t dictate my future, but I felt this overwhelming need to show them they were right, to prove that I did, in fact, grow up to be successful.

But what exactly is success and how does each person define it?

The definition of success has certainly changed for me over the years and, the truth is, it took me a while to realize that this process is normal and a good thing. How I define success is the result of how I evolve over time, the result of gathering new information and choosing how to use and adapt to that information.


For example, while in college, success meant doing well, graduating and getting a job. In my first job out of school, it was to work hard and get promoted. Then success changed for me when my husband and I decided to start a family – success was no longer about working hard to become a high ranking professional but instead finding a meaningful and healthy balance between working and being a mom.

When my first son was born, that changed again. Success shifted more to raising a happy and healthy son and having a work schedule that allowed this to happen. And as life continues to change, my definition of success is evolving again as I get closer to bringing another baby boy into the world – I now define success as being the best mom I can be to raise two happy, healthy and well-adjusted boys who are confident in themselves to recognize, embrace and use their own unique talents and strengths to be authentic in a world that tries to create copies.

Wow. What a whirlwind.

So when you find yourself overwhelmed at the prospect of success – whether it’s because you’re working toward a lofty goal you’ve set for yourself or you are trying to live up to expectations someone else has set for you – take a moment to ask yourself: is this what success means to me? This definition is personal and needs to be based on who you are and what you want.


Need help finding your definition of success? Consider reading The Greatness Zone to understand your three circles – what you are good at, what you are passionate about and what success means to you – to help you find your fit in today’s world. This is for all of us at any point in our lives.

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