Success! Define It For Yourself

Otherwise you may spend years working towards something you don’t actually want

Manuela Pauer
4 min readMar 26, 2021


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My alarm clock rang. Immediately, I felt a sense of dread about the day ahead. My day was going to be filled with meetings. My manager had asked me to cover an additional meeting for him and I knew I had only limited time to prepare for it beforehand. I reluctantly got out of bed to turn the alarm off and begin my day.

I was working as an Executive Director of Product Management at AOL. Everything looked great from the outside — I had a nice title, was getting promoted at work, received a good salary, and lived in a beautiful house complete with a white picket fence in a great neighborhood.

I should have been on top of the world. But how I felt on the inside was a different story. I was utterly unhappy. I did not enjoy my work. I was wondering whether what I was doing was making any difference at all in the world.

How did I get here? I had worked hard and done everything I could in order to achieve success. So why wasn’t I feeling happy?

Pursuing Other People’s Definition Of Success

The problem was that I had been pursuing someone else’s definition of success. At first, I was trying to meet my parent’s expectations. They told me that in order to be successful I had to attend a good university, choose a sensible major and work for a prestigious company.

Then, once I was working in the corporate world, it seemed like success was measured by titles, promotions and your salary.

I like tracking and measuring things. In product management, we used dashboards in order to keep track of key metrics for our products. We tracked and measured things from how many users we had, how often they used our product to what features they used. That way, we knew whether our product was successful or not and what changes we needed to make.

However, when it came to my career and my life, I was clearly tracking the wrong metrics. My title, my promotions and my salary clearly did not bring me happiness or fulfillment.

Defining Success For Myself

So I started to ask myself what my definition of success was in my life.

I have given this question quite some thought over the years, so I keep on refining it. Right now my definition for success looks something like this:

1. Be authentic, stay true to my values, and don’t pretend to be someone I am not.

2. Pursue a purpose that is meaningful to me. Right now my purpose is to love myself so I can love my life and to help other people do the same.

3. Enjoy time with my friends and people who I care about, talking, laughing, sharing and supporting one another.

4. Be comfortable financially: Live within my means, be in a comfortable living environment and be able to travel.

5. Continue to learn and grow.

6. Stay healthy so I can have a clear mind, enjoy activities with others, and be there for loved ones.

Now I can measure how I am doing in my career and my life using the metrics that matter to me!

I simply ask myself how well my life matches my definition of success right now (on a scale from 1–10) and I can get a quick snapshot to see how well I am doing.

Everyone Has Their Own Definition Of Success

This list will look different for everyone, and there is no right or wrong, since it’s about what is important to YOU, and it may change over time.

Here is the hard part: Even if we have a clear idea about what success looks like to us, all the messages we see around us every day may point towards a different definition of success.

Whether it is commercials on TV, ads in magazines, news stories, TV shows, seeing other people’s updates on LinkedIn or Facebook — it’s easy to believe that we need to achieve more, get “there” more quickly, be “better”, and be happier in the process.

Accept Where You Are And Continue To Practice

That’s where we come back to loving ourselves. Accepting ourselves the way we are right now. Being compassionate with ourselves. And empowering ourselves by remembering our definition of success and what is truly important and meaningful to us.

This is not a one-time exercise, it is a practice. But each time we practice, we are one step closer to making it a habit.

So I choose to remind myself again, today, that I am here to love myself and help you do the same, so we can lead happier and more fulfilled lives. And I remind myself that today, I want to savor and cherish my interactions with everyone I care about. That is success to me.

What does success mean to you?



Manuela Pauer

Career and Life Happiness Coach. Former Executive Director of Strategic Planning and Product Management at AOL.