(To You) What Is Success?

“Know what you want, and get it!”

Sushmita Sen, former Miss Universe

Sushmita Sen and Aishwarya Rai

The year was 1994. The world was bewitched by two Indian beauties. Ms.Sushmita Sen was crowned Miss Universe. Ms.Aishwarya Rai, her runner-up in the Indian contest, won the Miss World title.

In the years since, both have had careers that followed different paths. And many people feel one was more successful than the other.

But reading Ms.Sen’s quote again 15 years later made me pause and think. About success. And about how individual it is, as a concept.

What is “Success”?

I asked my audience on Twitter, and the answers were interesting. Before sharing them, let me express mine.

“Success is the freedom to do what you want to.”

That’s what I believe. It implies you are in control – to do things. And it presumes those are things you want to do.

My Book Was a Success

For many years, I have wanted to write a book – an Amazon.com best-seller. For one reason or another, it kept getting put off… until I finally did it.

On August 25th, 2009, I launched my first print book, “Think, Write & Retire!” It raced up the charts, to enter the HOT 100 list on Amazon.com, hitting #83 in the ‘Business & Investing’ category.

Think Write and Retire hits 83 on Amazon.com

My book was a success.

At around the same time, Chris Brogan launched his book, “TRUST AGENTS“. It hit #1 in two or three categories on Amazon.com (even reaching the 30’s overall among all books) – and has since gone on to become a New York Times and WSJ best-seller.

If I had wanted what Chris has achieved, then even with everything else being the same, my book would NOT have been a success!

Is Bill Gates a Success?

He has worn many crowns – as richest man in the world, multi-billionaire entrepreneur and co-founder of Microsoft, and now super-philanthropist who gives away his money to improve health and alleviate poverty in the world.

So, is he a success?

Most people would say “Yes, of course”. Some would disagree, and give their own reasons. But only one person can say if Mr.Gates is a success – HIMSELF!

Because only he knows what he wants – and if he’s free to get it.

Success Equals Happiness?


Not unless you WANT to be happy – in which case, you are a success WHEN you are happy!

But while many people assume ‘success’ is the same as ‘happiness’, I would argue that the two are distinct – though not mutually exclusive. You may pursue success at the cost of happiness – and will still be ‘successful’, even if not happy.

The Ultimate Secret of Success!

So, is there a ‘secret’ to success?

Yes. And it’s a simple, even obvious one. A secret that, once you know it, you can start using today, immediately, right this very minute – to become a ‘success’.

Best of all, it is completely within your control!

What is the secret? Just this. Change what you want.

WHAT! That’s a cop out, you say?

No. Think back to when you were younger. Much younger. Did you want the same things you want today?

Very likely not. We grow. We evolve. We change. And as we do, what we want changes too. With it, your chance of success changes too – it gets better.

Think about the words spoken many years ago by a young lady who was at the top of the world – nay, the Universe!

“Know what you want, and get it!”

In it, hidden, lies the secret of your success.

Here are some of the responses to my question on Twitter, “To YOU, what is the definition of ‘Success’?” Please add yours by leaving a comment below.

@ebizindia – Success to me is achieving a well-defined target. You are not successful if you made major progress but fell short of target.

@ShaunOReilly – Success = Living your own life, in your own way, getting better every day and making a real difference in the lives of others

@Ed – One angle: enough $ to never have to harm health chasing a buck…

@TerryDean – Success is when you get up everyday in love with your life. It’s not a destination as much as a journey.

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  • Sep 23,2009 at 10:48 am

    I am now 55 and I’ve been a rotter all along.I am changing and I came across this by Benjamin Franklin.

    “Your net worth to the world is usually dtermined by what remains after your bad habits are substracted from your good ones”.

    When I achieve that – sure I will – then that would be success to me.

  • Sep 17,2009 at 12:07 pm

    May I had my french grain of salt from another angle?

    Don’t worry! It does not sound too poetic:)

    IF “Success is the freedom to do what you want to.”


    “True freedom might be…to choose our own constraints, stay the course, while being the manager of these constraints…thus being aware of who we are…aware of our powerlessness ALSO…

    aware of our own story…with the humbling realization that we are limited in intelligence of heart and mind.”

  • Sep 15,2009 at 1:15 pm

    Success, as you suggest must be pegged to some goal or another. What most people call success though is often not, even for them, when they achieve it. Money, fame, even freedom…what is it unless it helps you to achieve your real promise and dream in life? And what’s that? What in the final analysis do we all want? Anything I suggest would be refutable by just one contrary opinion. So what do most people want out of life? I think it’s peace, love, connection to people, joy, opportunity to serve.

    Yep, and money, independence, freedom sure does help with all of that.

    …Like we still have a goal of financing at least one heart operation of yours — now, THAT is success to me.

    Loving the book btw. Thank you.



  • Sep 15,2009 at 4:58 am

    About a year ago, I was listening to an interview that Coach John Wooden had done on the topic of success. His definition of success significantly influenced mine. I believe I am successful when I know I made the effort to do my best.

  • Sep 14,2009 at 9:07 pm

    As always, your post is thought provoking and fun to read. I too share your definition of success: “Being able to do what I want and like doing, when I want and feel like doing it.”

    One of my early mentors shared with me the secret you discuss here – that it’s all within my control. A small mindshift that makes a world of difference.

    You rock!


  • Sep 14,2009 at 7:19 pm

    Seems we have very similar definitions of success. Mine goes “The freedom to do what I want – work when I want doing what I want to do and travel when and where I want to.” For me, success is not about being rich in money, but rich in life.

    BTW, Rieko and I both agree that Aishwarya Rai is one of the most beautiful women in the world.


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