How Do You Define Success?

If there’s one thing I’ve learned during three decades of change consulting and focusing leaders and managers on simplicity, it’s this…

People, and the companies they work for, have an uncanny habit of complicating really simple things — getting caught in the weeds on micro-details, and forgetting to figure out, and then stay focused on, what really matters.

So, at the beginning of every project I listen carefully to all their jargon-filled objectives, then I put all that aside and ask: How will you define success? How will you know that this project is wildly successful?

I almost always push beyond their first, second, and even third reply. Because while businesses are big on metrics, they rarely teach people how to think about success.

Defining success has immense power to shape your future. It frames how you think and shapes the choices that will help you become who you want to be. It holds you accountable. So I want to know how people view success in their gut — the nuances, the intense joys, and the passions behind those metrics. I begin poking at that with questions like…define success

Success is never just a coolly-defined metric. It’s always also emotional. And people check for emotional success a lot more frequently than they do spreadsheet success.

Your First Job is to Define Success for YOU…

Not for your boss or for your company. For you. Gary Keller, author of the best-seller The One Thing, asks us to consider success in seven different areas of our lives…define success

I learned how personal definitions of success can be when writing my fourth book, What is Your Life’s Work? I asked thousands of people around the globe to write one-to-three-page letters to their loved ones about what really matters in work and in life — their legacy of insights and passions. (Click here for instructions on writing your own legacy letter.)

Here are some examples of what people have shared when I asked them for their true definition of success…define success

Now Go Deep, Profound, and Simple… Create Your One-Pager

Thirteen years ago, my life was in a tailspin. Divorce, unsure of myself, feeling lost, and lots more. I journaled, and read, and shared, and asked for help, and journaled some more. This is what resulted: My one-pager of how I defined success for me and my work…define success

Notice the structure: long-term success (Dreams), short-term success (Live Every Day), strategic success (Highest Thoughts), and mapping personal transition (I am Becoming, Soul is After).

Every year since I check in with how I’m doing on those. And then I create a yearly three-word definition of success that keeps me focused for the next 12 months.

What is Success for You?

What will your legacy be? What is your life’s work? How will you make a difference in the world? What are your highest thoughts? How will you live each and every day?

Time for you to create your one-pager!

Bill Jensen

Bill Jensen

Bill Jensen is the foremost thought-leader on workplace simplicity, an IBM Futurist, and author of eight best-selling books. He has been featured in Fast Company, Forbes, Harvard Business Review, and The Wall Street Journal. As Mr. Simplicity, his mission is to make it easier to do great work and to hack stupid work. His research includes interviews and surveys with over one million people around the globe. He is CEO of the change consulting firm, The Jensen Group. You can contact Bill through email ( or his website.

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