Whether you're an entrepreneur or a professional trying to find success in your field, you've probably already faced a failure or an obstacle that's weakened your resolve. If you haven't yet, you're going to.

Finding the motivation to continue and work past these setbacks can be difficult, especially if you lack confidence in your ideas or abilities. Some would argue that overcoming these challenges is a simple matter of gaining more confidence, or gritting your teeth and powering through them. While this level of tenacity can help you move past your core challenges, it won't help you feel more fulfilled in your work, and it won't motivate you for the future. Instead, it's likely to fatigue you, making you more vulnerable to the negative effects of future obstacles.

If you want to truly overcome the mental and emotional burdens of micro-failures, and position yourself with a sense of purpose and motivation, you have to stabilize your mentality with a solid foundation--and that means defining what constitutes success in your world.

Traditional Concepts of Success

Defining success may seem easy at first. When asked to define success, most people cite conventional ideas of success, such as achieving independence, attaining a position of power, or amassing wealth. While these definitions of success are popular, they don't apply to everyone, and achieving these goals often leaves people without the feeling of success they thought they'd have.

Pop culture is filled with characters who have achieved one of these traditional goals for success, but who are unsatisfied with it, from Ebenezer Scrooge to Charles Foster Kane. These are hyperbolic illustrations, but they serve a valuable lesson about the illogical appeal of wealth and power. They're alluring goals, but they are often not actually what make people feel happy and fulfilled.

It's impossible to set good goals unless you know which ones are going to truly make you happy. Figuring out what's truly important to you, and filtering out the influence of traditional concepts of success, is the first step to creating a goal structure and ultimately forging a path to that success.

Unconventional Definitions of Success

History is ripe with individuals who have earned great respect because they followed an unconventional path, usually inspired by an unconventional definition of success. To many of these entrepreneurs and mavericks, that level of respect (or fame, in some cases) doesn't matter because they've found ultimate satisfaction in the work they do on a regular basis.

For example, take the story of Andrew Warner--when he was in his 20s, he created a business that ended up earning more than $30 million of revenue per year, setting him up with enough money to do whatever he wanted for the rest of his life. However, that money wasn't satisfying. Instead, Warner founded Mixergy, an organization dedicated to helping entrepreneurs get their startups off the ground. His definition of success was being able to help other visionaries achieve their goals--and while the money helped him accomplish that mission, it was only a means to an end.

Founder of Virgin and serial entrepreneur Richard Branson is one of the wealthiest men in the world. His definition of success is, "The more you're actively and practically engaged, the more successful you will feel." It has nothing to do with wealth, or power, or even leadership. To him, the notion of success is about being involved in something you care about--it may seem a bit vague, but finding and working on passion projects is a definition of success just as valuable as any conventional definition.

Finding Your Definition of Success

You may find it difficult to define your version of success, and if you do, you aren't alone. Some of the most conventionally "successful" people in the world are still struggling to figure out what's really important to them. Figuring out what your definition of success is early on is the best way to create goals that will result in true satisfaction--not just money or power.

Picture yourself with all the money and time you could ever want. What would you do? Would you help promote a specific cause? Would you pursue a certain hobby or try to solve a major problem in the world? How would you find satisfaction? If you can answer these questions, you may have just found your definition of success. If not, look outward for inspiration. Look at the stories of entrepreneurs who have found personal success, or speak with your colleagues and mentors to get their insights on what success is, and what's most important in their lives.

Your definition of success isn't necessarily tied to your work life, though it may be dependent on achieving other, smaller goals. For example, if your definition of success is solving a problem in the world and you need a large sum of money to do it, earning that money becomes a primary goal in your life. You just have to remember that earning the money is only a goal on the road to success--it isn't the definition of success. Accepting that perspective can help you better understand and appreciate each step of your journey to true success.

A Foundation for All Your Goals

Once you've figured out what success means to you, you can build the rest of your goals from there. Usually, you'll have two or three primary goals that allow you to achieve your definition of success, such as achieving a certain amount of wealth or stabilizing your business. Each of those goals will have several smaller goals it depends on, and so on.

The key to staying motivated in the face of adversity or unanticipated challenges is contextualizing those shortcomings. Your definition of success also dictates your definition of failure--you've only failed if you've given up on achieving success. For example, if your definition of success is stabilizing your own business, and your first business files for bankruptcy, you can't call that a true failure; you still have a chance to build a new business that leads you to your definition of success.


Taking charge of your own professional destiny with a unique definition of success will put you on the true path to satisfaction. For some, success means earning a specific amount of money or achieving a certain level of power, but for most people, those achievements won't result in satisfaction. Understanding what really satisfies you is the key to building and pursuing goals that truly matter, and grounding your temporary setbacks with context and understanding.

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