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My Surprising Definition of Success

Photo by Upsplash

I was at a live event this weekend and the facilitator asked a seemingly simple but powerful question:

“What is your definition of success?”

The question landed and took root.

It’s been a question I’ve been wrestling with the past few months.

One of my colleagues chimed in:

“My definition of success is to make millions. Save millions. Help millions. And spend millions…”

Sounds good, right?

But that answer didn’t sit with me.

I couldn’t help asking myself, then what?

For the first time, I realized what my real definition of success was.

And it didn’t contain the world “millions”.

I realized that my definition of success was not a number or a set of life circumstances (the car, the yacht, the white picket fence).

My definition of success is a feeling.

A state of being. 

It’s the simultaneous acceptance and gratitude for what is and aspiration and action towards what can be.

For me, it’s about fully accepting where I am on the journey, and all the challenges and opportunities I face.

It’s about letting go of any sense of woulda, coulda, shoulda.

Letting go of trying to prove myself.

Letting go of the stress and overwhelm and feeling like I can never do enough or be enough.

It’s about accepting and savoring this moment in time.

And most of all it’s about accepting myself. 

Loving myself for both my shadow and my light.

Expressing myself authentically in every moment.

And choosing exactly where I want to focus my energy and attention so I can maintain this state of being, this feeling of success… no matter what.

So, let me ask you, what is your definition of success?

If you really sit with this question, your answer may surprise you…

I know my answer has set me free

The more I let go of the grasping and struggling and comparing, the more I appreciate how far I’ve really come and look ahead with quiet confidence.

And the irony is that the more I accept, appreciate and let go, the more “making millions” and “helping millions” seems easy.

There is no doubt in my mind that I’m capable of meeting any challenge or opportunity. And there is no doubt in my mind that you are capable too.

Now go out there and Live Your Message.

Love it? Hate it? Let me know...

  1. Barbara Quick Avatar
    Barbara Quick

    Marisa, I love your answer! I do think along that same line, as I have always been a positive person, even through the tough times. I enjoy life. I love and enjoy my family. I love and enjoy my friends, even the new ones I make along life’s journey. I enjoy today and look forward to tomorrow being even better! All of that spells success for me!

    1. Marisa Murgatroyd Avatar
      Marisa Murgatroyd

      Thanks for sharing this. Friends, family and enjoyment are so important. We have such a short amount of time on this planet and we mind as well enjoy it!

  2. Axel Van Hazings Avatar
    Axel Van Hazings

    Hi Marisa, thanks for your post, I definitely share your philosophy! A while back I ran into this article that I thought fleshed out very well what ‘success’ really is, and it’s much like your own reasoning: … Certainly gave me some food for thought when I first read it!

    1. Marisa Murgatroyd Avatar
      Marisa Murgatroyd

      Thanks for sending!

  3. Virginia Avatar

    I agree and support all the definitions shared by others about success. For each of us there is something extra that makes it special. The ‘why’ we do what we do. There are similarities but we each have to satisfy that inner knowing.

    1. Marisa Murgatroyd Avatar
      Marisa Murgatroyd

      I agree that every person has their own definition…

  4. Brett Gajda Avatar
    Brett Gajda

    Took on that very question on Where There’s Smoke podcast a few weeks ago, in our Can You Feel It? (Success) episode. It starts with feeling, and ultimately is about living your perfect day, your full expression, imo. Whatever that is for you. If curious (and want to hear a This American Life/Invisiblia take on it) check out the episode on iTunes. Its a good ride! 🙂

    1. Marisa Murgatroyd Avatar
      Marisa Murgatroyd

      Thanks for sharing this.

  5. Shel Horowitz--Green/Ethical Marketer Avatar
    Shel Horowitz--Green/Ethical Marketer

    For me, success is first and foremost about my impact on the world. I can proudly point to several accomplishments over the years, from saving a threatened local mountain to helping make the business case for going green. Now I’m taking it up several notches: showing businesses how they can profit while making a difference on such issues as turning hunger and poverty into sufficiency, war into peace, and catastrophic climate change into planetary balance–and going beyond sustainability to the world we all want.

    Last year, I did a 15-minute TEDx talk on this, “Impossible is a Dare: Business for a Better World”
    — and launched the first of three related websites (Business For a Better World). This year, I’ve released my 9th book, Green And Profitable, and written my 10th book, Guerrilla Marketing to Heal the World, which will be published next year by Morgan James. I’m also far enough along with that I don’t mind offering sneak previews, even though the site isn’t finished yet. I still have to replace a few Lorem Ipsem pages. The third site, aimed at the corporate world, is so far only a domain and a roughy sketched out .doc copy, but I expect to have that live by the end of June if not before.

    It’s enormously exciting to think I could actually have real global impact in this area. Art age 58, I finally know what I want to do when I grow up 😉

    1. Shel Horowitz--Green/Ethical Marketer Avatar
      Shel Horowitz--Green/Ethical Marketer

      And I hit “post” before I could say that I loved your post, Marisa. It obviously struck a chord.

      1. Marisa Murgatroyd Avatar
        Marisa Murgatroyd

        Thanks Shel!

    2. Marisa Murgatroyd Avatar
      Marisa Murgatroyd

      Congratulations for finding “what you want to do when you grow up…”

      58 isn’t so bad. It took me to my mid-30s to find my place in the world.

      Sounds like you’re up to some seriously sustainable awesomeness… 🙂

  6. RLee Davis Avatar
    RLee Davis

    A wonderful description of freedom! Thanks, Marisa! I feel that the shackles of financial bonds hold us all, and the simple expectation would be to make enough money to get us out from under that. However, as a performing artist, my needs to perform have a higher interest than simply being rich (hence the term “starving artist”), but being financially safe would be a good start! Lee

    1. Marisa Murgatroyd Avatar
      Marisa Murgatroyd

      I think you can have both… 🙂

  7. Nashawn Avatar

    Hi Marisa,
    Thanks for a great article! I just made a quote about this very thing and here it is: “Success is doing what you were born to do! How successful are you?”

    This is my definition of success and I’m sticking to it! 🙂

    1. Marisa Murgatroyd Avatar
      Marisa Murgatroyd


  8. Alicia Power Avatar
    Alicia Power

    LOVE everyone’s replies on this. As a soul coach at an advanced level, my definition of success moves very much from my sense of myself as a vast soul from beyond this existence – sharing knowledge of true power, inner freedom and self joy. Also my intimate connection with the angelic realms, communing, dialoguing clearly, stepping into my days with higher intelligence guiding me – places me into a daily journey of learning. What is success? I’m always the student of more and more subtle worlds. Thanks for this opportunity to share! 🙂

    1. Marisa Murgatroyd Avatar
      Marisa Murgatroyd

      Thank you for sharing.

  9. Hannah Rose Avatar
    Hannah Rose

    Success always has to take into account that we aren’t here forever, so we had better consider ourselves “successful” today. Intentionally setting an outline that reflects the kind of values Marisa is talking about, then living it.

    Appreciate the reminder. Thanks, Marisa for being a thinking individual and recognizing that others crave more than cold hard cash.

    It is so easy to get caught up in the “millions” marketing–I’m sure we would all like to be living freer lifestyles–we have to realize that big money can’t buy everything we desire, because we are, first and foremost, spiritual beings.

    1. Marisa Murgatroyd Avatar
      Marisa Murgatroyd

      I love that Hannah! Success really is best when you can appreciate it today… 🙂

  10. Ronald Slyderink Avatar
    Ronald Slyderink

    Dear Marisa, you are closer to what ‘success’is than that rather empty and self focused ‘making millions, spending millions…’sentiment. All descriptions of success though including your feelings would miss the mark if at the end we would have to face our Maker and give an account of our lives. What would he say success is? Indeed we could ask what Jesus asked – what does it profit a person if he/she gained the whole world but lost their soul whatever their ‘journey’? Success in God’s eyes is bound up with us turning away from our selves and our lostness and sin to Jesus Christ the only one who can save us from ourselves and death. What distorted view ‘success’ we hold if at the end we lose everything and experience eternal separation from the love and goodness of God. That would make us anything but successful, it would be tragic.

    1. Marisa Murgatroyd Avatar
      Marisa Murgatroyd

      Thank you for sharing Ronald.

      1. Ronald Slyderink Avatar
        Ronald Slyderink

        Thank you for responding Marisa, I didn’t think you would as I may have appeared heavy but I do care about you. I would want you not to be fooled and deceived by the glitterings of this world but to experience being born again as a beautiful child of the King and the Kingdom of God. “He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life.” God bless you.

  11. Scott Avatar

    Flexibility of schedule aka freedom. My motivation is my family (wife, daughter and son on the way), so success is having the freedom to spend time with them when I want. If I can continue to do that, I consider myself successful.

    1. Marisa Murgatroyd Avatar
      Marisa Murgatroyd

      Beautiful definition.

  12. Hinda Avatar

    Freedom in one’s life is all we can ever ask for. Successful people have that freedom to lead a joyful life. One must be happy within themselves to experience freedom. The earning of money is the icing on the cake!
    Marisa, I love the way you express yourself always……….

    1. Marisa Murgatroyd Avatar
      Marisa Murgatroyd

      Thank you Hinda… Freedom is definitely key.

  13. Jason Avatar

    To live a life that is not wasted… one that has impact now and well into eternity.

    1. Marisa Murgatroyd Avatar
      Marisa Murgatroyd

      Success = Impact

  14. George Coleman Avatar
    George Coleman

    I read the real definition of success from a 2000 year old quote when I was 17. “He who wants to be the greatest will be the servant of all.” It is a great story. Two of Jesus’ disciples wanted to be the most successful and asked to sit on the right and left of the King of Kings when His kingdom was established. Jesus did not correct them for wanting to be successful. He acknowledged that all mankind wanted to be successful and told them how to become the biggest success. I adopted that attitude and actions and believe that of I help others accomplish their goals that as a by-product I will obtain mine. I will consider that my life was a success if on my tombstone they write…”He made a difference”

    1. Marisa Murgatroyd Avatar
      Marisa Murgatroyd

      Beautiful. You are a master servant. 🙂

  15. Gene Avatar

    Success is the accumulation of attributes that commingle with one’s innate uniqueness and develops into a value filled reservoir of talent on which to achieve magnanimous impacts within the fertile growth areas that are receptive.

    1. Marisa Murgatroyd Avatar
      Marisa Murgatroyd

      An accumulation of attributes describes it well… since it’s a set of daily actions and not a goal you achieve once.

  16. Emyr Avatar

    Over 25 years ago I met a student in Istanbul who was on a summer vacation. I was travelling by bicycle. He wanted to know where I’d been and where I was going, so I told him. I had spent nearly 3 years cycling home from New Zealand to Wales.

    “Don’t you think you’re a failure?” he asked. His question took my by surprise!

    “No,” I told him. “I set out to cycle home from New Zealand. I got this far – I don’t think I’m a failure!”

    “Oh!” he said. He appeared to equate success with earning money and had not thought of completing a challenging journey as success.

    My definition of success is having inner peace and hapiness, being able fulfill my dream (or challenge), no matter what it is. My current dream is to establish a successful online business so I don’t have to commute to work any more nor work for anyone else, all whilst living and enjoying my off-grid lifestyle 🙂 If I make a lot of money, that will be a bonus. I’ll use it to plant more trees and help people.

    I started the journey about 18 months ago, but still have work to do to achieve financial security.

    1. Marisa Murgatroyd Avatar
      Marisa Murgatroyd

      I’m so embarrassed! I responded to all the Facebook comments to this blog post, but just realized this morning that all the Wordpress comment notifications I usually receive had been suppressed. Your definition really hits home… success is about completing what you’ve set out to do. Not someone else’s expectations. 🙂

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