To know success, first define it for yourself.

The accomplishment of an aim or purpose.

The attainment of popularity or profit.

The gaining of wealth, respect, or fame.

Those are a few common definitions of success, ones that point to the importance of reaching some sort of standard or goal.

While I certainly agree with the importance of accomplishment, it’s clear these definitions lack depth.

In fact, I’ve learned that successful people have one thing in common: They’ve honed their own definition of success.

They have a fairly clear sense of what matters most to them, whether that is having a family, building their immediate community, maintaining incredible friendships, or pursuing a specific career. In other words, they experience success in and on their own terms.   

Understanding what success looks like for any one of us is not always clear or easy. Most of us are initially other-directed, led by notions of success expressed by family, friends, society, and yes, colleges and universities. And we can all certainly use these sources in crafting our individual definitions of success.

For instance, at Yale, we define success in terms of how you use your talents in service to others, including family, community, country, and humanity. There’s an entrenched value that each student’s life and path should have this kind of meaning.

Holding this value can free us to understand success beyond other, more conventional values (money and influence, for example). While our alumni are CEOs, Nobel Prize winners, presidents, and award-winners, to most of them, these awards and titles are a “yes, and”—a complement to, and not the primary measure of, their success.

My personal definition of success is holistic: Success must extend across many areas of life: personal relations, professional life, and connections with the community and the world.

The key to creating your own definition of success is to listen to your internal voice for clues and to experiment broadly to figure out what works for you. I’ll share more of these experiments and techniques for defining success in future posts, and I welcome your contributions to this ongoing discussion and discovery.

So, what’s your definition of success?