Standards for Success

How do you measure success? Are the standards of success defined by the number of goals that you crush before 8 a.m.? Do you have to become the next Steve Jobs to qualify as a successful person?

Money and fame are only two standards for success, and they might not be the standards by which everyone lives. In this article, we’ll discuss some of the criteria that you can set so that you can identify what success means to you and evaluate whether you’re achieving it.

Why It’s Important to Measure Success

Defining success helps you measure it, and assessing your standards for success allows you to feel accomplished. If you say that you want to feel successful but don’t know what success means to you, then you might spend your life chasing an impossible dream. When you do that, you end up feeling unfulfilled and unsatisfied no matter how much you earn or how big your house is.

The same goes for measuring success. If you don’t have quantifiable standards for success, you may never know when you achieve it. It’s like going on a road trip when you don’t have a destination in mind.

When you call home, your mother asks, “Did you arrive?” Your answer: “I’m not sure.”

If you live by someone else’s standards for success, you may never be satisfied. Therefore, it’s important to develop your own measures.

This can be a lifelong process, especially if your parents, siblings or peers have different values than you. For example, imagine that you’re an artist who spends time creating incredible masterpieces. You hang out in the studio more than you promote your work. Therefore, you have trouble selling the pieces that you create.

You’re having trouble making ends meet. You have to pull money together to pay bills every month.

However, you’re insanely passionate about what you do. You can’t wait to get out of bed every morning and get into your studio. Putting paint down makes you feel free, inspired and connected with the universe.

When you talk to your family about your work, they see it as a hobby because you’re not supporting yourself with it. However, you see your art-making as your mission in life. It doesn’t matter whether you ever sell a painting because this is what you feel like you’ve been put on this earth to accomplish.

Are you successful? That depends on your standards for success. If you measure your progress by inspiration, motivation and happiness, then you’re one of the most successful people in the world. If you measure your progress by wealth, fame and power, then you might feel like a failure.

How to Define Your Version of Success

Therefore, it’s important to clarify your standards for success so that you can pat yourself on the back as you’re achieving them. When you feel good about your definition of success, you won’t be as susceptible to other people’s judgments, which can make you feel like a disappointment.

Some tips for creating your own measures of success include:

  • Defining your personal success standards
  • Opting for a fulfilling path
  • Committing to achieving your goals
  • Doing a little bit more than you were willing to do the day before
  • Setting intrinsic goals instead of those that are based on external reward
  • Thinking of how you can give back to the world

The Most Common Standards for Success

Some of the most common measures of success include:

  • Wealth
  • Job title
  • Power
  • Recognition
  • Happiness

Although most people equate success with wealth, there are several other standards that can be used to gauge your life’s triumphs. In fact, successful people don’t necessarily identify success as being powerful or rich. You don’t have to be the head of a nation (or your department at work, for that matter) to be successful. An achievement like getting a promotion or writing a best-selling book may not even make you feel accomplished.

Even though Richard Branson, the founder of the Virgin Group, has assets worth approximately $4 billion, he says that happiness is his measure of success. Arianna Huffington says that the following should be standards for success:

  1. Well-being
  2. Wonder
  3. Wisdom
  4. Giving

And while Warren Buffett is one of the wealthiest people in the world, he says that relationships, not money, define his feelings of accomplishments. He measures success by the number of people that love him.

Some people live to help others. For them, success is quantified by the difference that they make in the world.

Most people just want to feel happy. They strive for balance, and they hope to find inner peace at some point in their lives. They want to feel purposeful in their own right without looking to external factors for validation of their worth.

But what makes you successful in the eyes of the world doesn’t necessarily make you feel successful on the inside. Therefore, coming up with a list of your standards can help you gauge whether you’ve reached your marks and reassure you that you’re making it in life.

Is Success Temporary?

When you measure success by your accomplishments, you’ll probably find that the resulting feelings of achievement are temporary. You celebrate when you get the raise, but you groan when you have to get up for work the next day. You sign the book deal, but you spend the following year ignoring your family while you hole up in your office and write.

Motivational speaker Fawn Gerber says that “Success is always temporary; failure lasts much longer.” She describes the way that the Chinese culture minimizes achievements. The Chinese don’t praise each other for finishing a multi-million dollar project or celebrating an equally impressive victory. Instead, they have a healthy respect for failure.

Vince Gill also said that success is temporary. “When all is said and done, the only thing you’ll have left is your character.” It seems that hitting your marks is only one way to gauge your success. It may be more important to assimilate everything you’ve learned from your journey instead of simply reaching your goals and moving on.

That’s where the permanence sets in. As you reach your goals, one of the best questions that you can ask yourself is, “How can I take what I’ve learned with me?” Implementing your successes into your character and living with integrity is perhaps the best measure that you’ve come a long way.

Breaking Down the Success Standards

Let’s dissect the usual success standards as well as some of the less-recognized ones. Understanding how to measure success can help you come up with a definition and reward yourself as you make progress.


How much money do people need to feel successful? In a CareerBuilder study, 55 percent of participants said that a salary of $70,000 would make them feel successful. With the average American salary at around $46,000, that isn’t such a lofty goal.

In fact, when researchers went on to break down the study, they realized that participants’ ideas of the salary that would make them feel successful were on par with what they were already making. In most cases, the workers’ ideal measure of financial success was only one step above their current status.

For most people, earning enough to provide for themselves and their families is enough to make them feel successful. They don’t need the yacht, mansion or private jet.

A study from Princeton University found similar results. Those researchers found that happiness in relation to wealth caps out at around $75,000 per year. As people’s incomes drop below that benchmark, they tend to feel less happy. However, after they reach $75,000, earning more doesn’t necessarily give them deeper satisfaction.

Earning a lower income can make the other worries in your life harder to manage. For example, about 51 percent of people who earned $1,000 or less every month said that they felt sad or stressed out the day before. Only 24 percent of people who earned $3,000 a month experienced sorrow or anxiety the previous day.

Deciding how much money you need to make to feel successful is highly personal. You can start out by evaluating your income and expenses. Then, consider what additional funds you might need to feel fulfilled in life. For some people, that could be the equivalent of three vacations a year. Others would be satisfied with two months of earnings in a savings account.


Everyone has different social needs. However, relationships are an integral part of your success in business and your personal life.

It’s hard to make time for relationships in a culture that praises productivity. If your job is demanding or you’re a busy parent, you may find it hard to make time for any meaningful interactions, even with your own family.

However, you do need interpersonal connection and support from others. These things may help you feel successful. They will also help you achieve the success that you desire.

Friends can help you get more out of life in the following ways:

  • They motivate you – People who hang out with high achievers tend to improve their performance.
  • They help you resist temptation – People with low levels of self-control stay on track better when they’re surrounded by strong-willed friends.
  • They enhance your work experience – Feeling lonely at work can make you less likely to take on responsibility.
  • They can improve your health – People who isolate themselves are at a higher risk of developing heart disease and poor health.

Moreover, having friends in various circles can improve your networking capabilities. In a comprehensive study of social networks, Professor Ronald Burt found that the most successful people—those who were promoted more quickly, earned more money and got more recognition—moved between different groups of friends. They passed information back and forth and built liaisons among the networks.

In this day and age, relationships may be more important than ever in business. It’s easy to build a global network over the internet, and it’s important to establish trust with potential clients. Ted Rubin says that your Return on Relationships, or ROR, a new measure of success. He defines it as a metric that expands beyond the traditional return on investment, or ROI.

Relationship building is crucial to your success in business, but it can’t always be measured directly. For example, the number of followers on your Instagram account doesn’t necessarily make you successful, especially if that audience isn’t paying you for your goods or services.

The same goes for your personal life. Getting bombarded with likes, subscribes and comments doesn’t always enhance your success. Studies show that social media can influence your mental health. It can make you happier or more depressed depending on the way that you interact with it.

When you’re using your relationships as a standard for success, consider putting more emphasis on your face-to-face interactions than the ones that occur over a screen.

And when it comes to your personal relationships, such as those with your parents, partner and close friends, the best way to evaluate their success is to determine what you want out of them. Once you pinpoint your desires and values, you can begin to be honest with yourself about what you’re getting out of your relationships.


“Health is wealth,” the saying goes. Most people want to be healthy. Poor health can make you feel like you’re not as successful as you want to be. It can also interfere with your ability to take the action that you need to achieve success.

However, the National Health Council reports that by 2020, about 157 million Americans will have at least one chronic disease. Does that mean that almost half of the country’s total population will be inherently unsuccessful? No.

Like most measures of success, health is subjective. Many people are able to manage symptoms of poor health so that they achieve the success that they want in life.

Your health doesn’t necessarily predict your chances for success. However, your habits do. Establishing healthy routines can improve your chances of success.

Some examples of healthy and successful people include:

  • Barack Obama, who exercised for 45 minutes every day before work during his presidency
  • Michelle Obama, who made time for daily exercise even if she had to wake up in the wee hours of the morning
  • Oprah Winfrey, who meditates for 20 minutes twice a day
  • Al Roker, who drinks a protein smoothie after his daily weather segment

A 2013 study found that regular exercise increases levels of neurotransmitters that are vital to thinking, learning and focusing. You use more brain cells when you’re moving around. Working out regularly may help you find the motivation to meet your goals and maintain your determination.

Challenging your body is a metaphor for life. Building healthy habits may help you develop the mental toughness that you need to succeed. For example, working out consistently can help you be more diligent about completing tasks that can help you get ahead in life.

Going to the gym when you don’t feel like it helps you develop the grit that you need to get by when you’re not inspired. Being able to thrive in the face of adversity helps you succeed. Practicing this skill on a physical level can enhance your ability to succeed.


Ultimately, some may say that success equals happiness. If you think like that, then the material measures of success can only get you so far. The average person has more material wealth and comforts than they did 50 years ago. However, the World Happiness Database indicates that society as a whole has not gotten any happier.

Is that because success does not equal happiness? Or is it because none of the measures of success count if they don’t bring you personal satisfaction?

You hear stories like these all the time—the people who look like they have it all but are falling apart on the inside. Therefore, we can’t separate happiness from the other standards of success. It seems as though happiness may be the one element that can predict success above all else.

Personal Growth

In “The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success,” Deepak Chopra writes, “Success in life could be defined as the continued expansion of happiness and the progressive realization of worthy goals.” Although this is similar to the idea of happiness as a standard for success, it implies that success isn’t a final destination. According to Chopra, success is the journey.

This goes against what most of us are taught, but it may be the key to finding and maintaining success. If you base your personal triumphs on whether you’ve reached your goals, then your success may be fleeting. However, if you believe that success is learning, growing and developing, then you can feel successful every day.

You can also think of it this way: if you can’t grow, how can you succeed? Lack of growth will keep you exactly where you are. If you don’t already feel successful, you’ll never get to where you’re going without evolving.


When you use personal growth as a standard for success, failure becomes another stepping stone on your journey. It doesn’t make or break you; it simply teaches you. Failure is a lesson that helps you learn, grow and develop. Therefore, failure can become a standard for success.

Another way to look at this is to consider that you won’t move forward if you don’t take risks. However, taking risks offers the constant potential for failure. If you can view failure as a standard for success, you can use it to your advantage.

You don’t have to try hard to see how failure can benefit you. Failure is a reason to get curious about a situation. When you look for what went wrong instead of who to blame, you can determine what you need to do next time to achieve a better outcome.

Failure also gives you a reason to overcome adversity. When you experience a letdown, you realize that failing isn’t always as scary as it seems. Botching a big project allows you to try with more eagerness and passion next time. You can build on failure, and it makes you more creative and innovative, which can further fuel your journey toward success.

Measuring Success

If you’re bothering to set standards for success, you need to be able to measure the outcomes. That’s where things can get challenging, especially if you haven’t taken the time to define what’s important to you.

It’s easy to measure your wealth based on the value of your assets or the total on your bank statement. It may be harder to quantify your happiness, mental health, freedom or fulfillment.

We can take some cues from psychological researchers, who often have to quantify happiness to provide accurate results in their studies. Psychology Today outlines some approaches for measuring happiness that can be adapted for evaluating success:

1. Biological Markers

Scientists can measure neurotransmitter levels to help predict happiness. However, there is still a lot of research necessary to identify the exact biological markers for happiness. On a day-to-day basis, you can’t tell how much dopamine you’re producing. But you can practice activities that boost levels of feel-good neurotransmitters.

That’s one reason that finding balance in your life is so important. Getting together with friends, doing rewarding activities and exercising can increase mood-enhancing chemicals in your body.

To look at this from a success perspective, you may want to notice how successful you feel (based on your definition of success) on the days when you incorporate more of these activities into your life.

2. Behaviors

Experts can measure happiness based on certain behaviors, such as laughing, smiling and helping others. Some researchers have even measured the use of emojis to determine a society’s happiness.

Awareness of your own behaviors can help you measure success. At the end of the day, reflecting on your mood can help you notice whether you felt successful.

You might even want to note episodes of laughter or moments in which you felt helpful to others. If our impact on society is a standard for success, then awareness of your giving spirit can help you measure that success.

3. Self-Assessment

Because happiness is subjective, researchers find it helpful to ask subjects to assess their own levels of this mood or emotion. Again, making a practice of looking back on your day can help you evaluate your happiness and success.

What’s interesting about this method for measuring happiness is that it can be swayed by seemingly insignificant details. For example, in one study, researchers found that participants rated their life as a whole as happier after finding a few coins by the photocopier.

The same thing can happen with success. Have you ever looked at yourself in the mirror after a long run and thought that you looked slimmer? The fact that you exercised, checked something off of your to-do list and achieved a goal for your day can impact the way that you see yourself.

Along those same lines, your daily habits and activities can influence the way that you measure your success. Remembering this can help lift you up on the days that you don’t feel successful. It can also help you readjust your mindset so that you prioritize the activities, tasks and goals that do make you feel successful.

Measuring your results over the long term is important. The road to success is filled with obstacles, and you may take one step back for every two steps forward. In fact, moving backward before you can plow ahead is one way that humans learn.

In the Talent Code, Daniel Coyle explains that correcting mistakes allows new neurons to fire together, strengthening the pathways surrounding them and making the activity feel easier the next time you do it.

We can’t absorb all of the significance of every life event if we don’t stop to assimilate it. That often means that we have to repeat lessons before they become solidified in our psyches.

Are Your Standards for Success Too High?

On the Unmistakable Creative podcast, Will Storr said, “We set unusually high markers for success. We are presented with this perfect self on TV, on radio, on the internet, and social media, and are told that if you’re not this perfect person, you have failed.”

A quick internet search supports the theory that we’ve been taught to set ridiculously high standards. IQ Matrix says that raising your standards is the key to achieving your goals. Awaken the Greatness Within advises you never to lower your standards.

While your standards set the foundations for your performance, they may be unrealistic, especially if you’re basing your standards on other people’s opinions and judgments. Instead of having impractical expectations, you might want to focus on recognizing your value.

You are enough. You are worthy of all of the love and abundance in the world. You deserve success.

When you internalize these statements and truly believe them, you can achieve anything that you want.

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