Interview Question: How Do You Define Success?

Ever wondered am I living a life that’s true to myself?

It was a definition of success from an outside-in perspective (what other people consider most important in life) versus an inside-out perspective (what I really care about).

Once I began working for myself as a marketing consultant and later as a coach, I realised that I needed to totally redefine my definition of success. If I was to set meaningful personal and financial goals, then I first needed to know what I actually wanted in life.

What I wanted. It was a surprisingly difficult question to answer. What I’m about to share with you is the method I used to do so.

As a former corporate marketing manager, I used this question a lot when planning big projects and campaigns with colleagues. But I had never asked it of myself. When I finally did, the first place I looked was the English Collins Dictionary definition. Here’s what I found:

success (noun)

(səkses )

1. Success is the achievement of something that you have been trying to do.

2. Success is the achievement of a high position in a particular field, for example in business or politics.

3. Someone or something that is a success achieves a high position, makes a lot of money, or is admired a great deal.

Unfortunately, I believe too many people understand the word success by definitions 2 and 3 and not enough by 1 — “Success is the achievement of something that you have been trying to do.

The versions of success in definitions 2 and 3 are our Western cultural baggage. Achieve a high position. Make a lot of money. Be admired a great deal.

The problem with those definitions is that they suggest that anyone who doesn’t achieve those things in life is not a success. And that’s nonsense.

Let’s imagine success another way.

Financial stability…means having control over your time, workload and income. It means you can sustainably earn the income you want without working more than you want.

Creative freedom…means working as much as you want, when you want, where you want and with whom you want.

Lifestyle design…means arranging work around your lifestyle, not the other way round. It means being able to prioritise your family, your health, your hobbies and still deliver great work.

If you’re reading this and thinking , “Ha! Get real. As if it’s possible to live a life like that”, then you’re not alone. I too believed that to be successful, you had to sacrifice something. To be really successful, you had to sacrifice a lot.

But I’ve learned a great deal since then. I’ve learned that success is an inside job.

Success simply means achieving what you want. What you want. What YOU want.

If success for you looks nothing like a high position, a lot of money and admiration — that’s success! And if you really want a high position, a lot of money and admiration — that’s success! But if you get all those things yet what you really wanted was a quiet, easy life in a cottage by the sea, then that’s not success.

Here’s my unpopular opinion: Success without fulfilment is not success. It’s failure.

If you are materially successful but spiritually bankrupt, that’s failure.

If you have attained a “high position” but at a detriment to your health and your relationships, that’s failure.

If you are “greatly admired” but are plagued with self-loathing, that’s failure.

Success feels and looks different for every single person. It’s not a destination but an ever-evolving journey, and it doesn’t come with a map because there is no one path. Once you understand this, you can start designing your life based on what you want, not what you think you should do.

I believe that everyone can design their life on their own terms. It requires some deep thought, epic imagination, strategic planning, the courage to make some big decisions, and a whole lot of commitment.

It may sound unrealistic. But it’s absolutely possible.

The first exercise I ask new coaching client of mine to do is called Vision of Success, and I’m going to share it right here with you.

It involves writing your own definition of success by describing in concrete, tangible details exactly what Lifestyle Design, Creative Freedom and Financial Stability would mean for you.

So grab a notebook and start answering the following questions. Try to be as specific and precise as you can.

What does success look like for you in terms of health and wellness, family and social life, holidays and hobbies?

Where do you spend your time day-to-day, week-to-week, and how do you spend it?

What does meaningful work feel like for you professionally?

What kind of people do you work for and with? How do they inspire you?

Do you get to work on personal creative projects as well as client ones?

Do you get to switch off and step back from work whenever you want without everything crashing down around you?

What does financial success look like in order to be able to afford the lifestyle you want?

What’s your “more-than-enough number” that leaves you with plenty to save for the future and give back?

Get really specific with the numbers. Think about revenue but also personal income goals, budgets for ideal savings, investments and charitable giving.

Why Does the Hiring Manager Ask This Question?

Another pitstop before we look at how to answer the question “how do you define success” is to take a moment and examine why the hiring manager is asking you this in the first place. After all, it is a bit of an odd question, so there has to be a reason for it, right? Right.

Usually, the interviewer is trying to gauge what you’re like. Your answer gives them glimpses into your work ethic, priorities, preferences, and motivations. It provides them with clues about your values, as well as specific key traits.

Okay, think of it this way: Imagine you are trying to land a position on a sales team. If you said success is exceeding your sales quotas, the hiring manager might view you as independent. But, if you stated that success is ensuring team goals are met, you’ll seem more collaborative. Neither of those is wrong; they just give the hiring manager different pictures of what you’d be like if you landed the position.

Once you answer, the hiring manager can determine how well you’d fit into the team and the company’s culture. Essentially, if your definition of success aligns with the organization’s, team’s, or manager’s, you might be a better fit.

We also wanted to let you know that we created an amazing free cheat sheet that will give you word-for-word answers for some of the toughest interview questions you are going to face in your upcoming interview. After all, this is only one potential interview question you could be asked!