By Seth Williams, founder of REtipster Publishing LLC

Every time I hear someone talking about what it takes to be successful, I cringe. “Success” is one of those catch-all words people use to describe everything good in life, but the problem is that it is impossible for everyone to agree on what success really means.

Merriam-Webster gave it a shot and came up with “the attainment of wealth, favor, or eminence.”

What do you think? Is it fair to sum up every successful person based on their wealth, favor or eminence?

The problem with this definition (or any definition) of success is that success is subjective. Not every successful person sets out to attain wealth, favor, or eminence. Some folks are looking for things like freedom, spiritual enlightenment, self-discipline or relationships with great people.

There are many different ways to measure when a person has found success. Ultimately, success has to be defined by you.

Are you climbing the wrong ladder?

In the entrepreneurial world, a lot of people go into business for themselves because they're looking for freedom from a boss, freedom from the 9-to-5 or the ability to live life on their terms.

But many entrepreneurs will inevitably start following Merriam-Webster's definition of success instead of their own: the money, the house, the car.

There's nothing inherently wrong with these things, but I’ve found that most entrepreneurs want to be remembered by more than just wealth and fame. Yet somehow, this is the path many entrepreneurs run down.

Eventually, we realize it doesn't take us where we want to go. It's like spending years climbing up a ladder, only to look down and realize the ladder was leaning up against the wrong wall.

Why do so many people end up chasing after achievements that don't make them happy? I believe this happens when an entrepreneur never intentionally sets their own definition of what success looks like.

What's your definition of success?

In a lot of ways, success has been defined by those who do have money and fame, but that doesn't mean they are the only ways to live lives that have an impact. There are plenty of people who live meaningful, important lives but don't have much money or fame to show for it.

So, how can you define your own version of success and move in that direction?

Take the time to understand what you truly value.

The first time I tried this, I found it was surprisingly difficult to think outside the established norms of seeking wealth, status and admiration from others. If you're struggling to come up with your own unique definition, try asking yourself these questions:

  • When in your life have you felt genuinely happy? Who were you with? What were you doing? What circumstances led to your happiness? What would it take for you to recreate these moments?
  • When was the last time you felt content, satisfied and fulfilled? What made you feel this way? Which of your needs, wants and desires were being met?
  • What do you value most in life? Come up with a shortlist of things that matter most to you. Which items on this list matter more than the others? Put the items in order of priority, and be honest with yourself as you do this.

Whatever your answers are, you'll probably find there's a lot more to the story than just money, power and influence. When you know what's going on beneath the surface, you'll develop a much better understanding of your values and definition of success.

Sort out your values.

Even after you've defined what success looks like for yourself, it still takes a lot of intentional effort to keep these goals clear in your mind and to see past the standard dictionary definition that permeates our culture.

Another common danger to navigate through is avoiding terms of success that sound noble, but don't actually belong on your list of values. For example, if “giving away 50% of my income” (as wonderful as it may sound) isn't one of your highest aspirations, don't include it in your definition of success.

Be honest about what does and doesn't matter, because when you allow your real passions to show in your personal definition of success, the path will be much less difficult and frustrating.

What will you work for?

As you define what success looks like in your life, remember this: You're going to end up pursuing something in life. The question is, will you consciously choose these things on your own accord, or will you end up pursuing the kind of success that the people around you have chosen for you?

You have important work to do. The only way to know what that work will be is to define what success looks like for you.

Seth Williams is the founder of REtipster.com, a real estate investing blog that offers real-world guidance for real estate investors.