How Do You Measure Success in Life?

September 7, 2023

How would you define “success” to a Martian from outer space who is learning to navigate his career and life on Earth?

This post is an excerpt from our "Six Lives" exercise, available to members in our Transitions Council.

Get access to the full exercise by emailing!


Success is not one-size-fits-all. Success is measured by a lot of factors — who we are, where we are at, where we want to go, and what we value are some of those.

How would you rank each of these types of lives, from "most successful" to "lease successful"?

Organizational Excellence and Teamwork

A life devoted to leading and helping teams achieve at high levels. Success resides in a career built on group accomplishment and recognition. This person also develops the talents and abilities of  others and takes satisfaction from their achievements. Family is also important.

Personal Loyalty and Commitment

A life characterized by a strong sense of duty, loyalty, and personal commitment to specific people and organizations. These may be close friends, family members, or work partners. Success springs from maintaining and nurturing these loyalties.

Power, Independence, Glamour, and Variety

A life that takes on high-stakes, publicly visible challenges. Success comes from winning through the creation of a successful enterprise, the use of individual skills, strategic acumen, and competitive energy. Pleasure, variety, and sensation are high priorities.

Craftsmanship and Family

Recognition, fame, or fortune means little. Intrinsic motivation is sufficient to give you satisfaction. Success is measured by creating your work, completing defined tasks to the best of your ability, and strong devotion to your family.

Individual Excellence

A life of disciplined practice and hard work within a defined career that measures success through recognized, individual achievement. Family is a priority, but excelling at your chosen work is first.

Answering a Spiritual/Values-Based Calling

A life characterized by work that embodies core beliefs and values. Success comes from using one’s best abilities to serve a higher cause—and bringing your family to share those beliefs.

Are you happy with your top choice? Is there something that you should or could be doing to improve that life?


Six Lives Exercise from Springboard: Launching your personal search for success,G. Richard Shell, New York: Portfolio/Penguin, 2013