Our journey to Financial Independence

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Are You Successful? 7 Definitions of Success

How do top performers define success?

Are you going to be a success? I wish I could guarantee it. The problem begins when I ask you, how you define success.

By the way… How do you define success?

I’ll be honest, I have no clue. Curious as I am — I couldn’t leave this question unanswered. From Personal Finance to life, in general, it’s an essential question. We measure ourselves comparably to the success of others. Although, ultimately it doesn’t matter we cannot stop ourselves. 

So to be sure I had the best insight I had to look at the best for feedback. At the end of the day, we measure our own success. Yet finding pride from within can be challenging. I’m sure that whatever you believe is a success you will find yourself below!

1. If you're engaged it's a success

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When asked about success Richard Branson answers

“My definition of success? The more you’re actively and practically engaged, the more successful you will feel.”

Mr Branson makes no mention of performance. In his eyes, success is a feeling – an emotional reaction. Although this quote might be difficult to apply to investing. It’s perfect when it comes to chasing Financial Independence. As we achieve FI the chase of success becomes an easy one. You have the time to throw yourself into engaging work, despite lower potential returns.

The book “Finding My Virginity” , an autobiography by Richard Branson, was eye-opening for me. Although, he has failed dozens of times and gotten back up. He started with nothing and has built the Virgin Empire by pursuing passion projects. 

We can put it down to luck. But it opens the question: had business been less profitable would he have the same definition of success? 

I feel close to this definition as motivation always runs high when I’m passionate. It certainly explains why “pro-bono” work feels rewarding.

2. Sacrifice is necessary

I didn’t expect to find “it’s easy” among the answers. Yet the way the Dalai Lama puts the value of success in perspective is mind-opening. It’s also a quote that is perfectly at its place on a FI/RE and Personal Finance blog.

“Judge your success by what you had to give up in order to get it.”

If you strive for Financial Freedom – you know the importance of lowering expenses and growing income. Achieving your yearly saving rate is a success in itself as it requires you to sacrifice some comfort.

I talk about the challenge of moving abroad in my article “Should I Live Abroad?”. My move abroad although at the cost of higher pay is in my eyes a success. Sacrificing the comfort from home for personal growth was the right call!

Take time to reflect on what you’ve given up on to reach your current position.

3. Success to the unyielding

How Bad do you want success?
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Striking gold is tough. The likelihood of it being on the first throw is minuscule. You will fail. Not once probably, many times. How do you keep your drive? More importantly, how do you find your strength in failure?

Winston Churchill defines “Success is walking from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm.”

I’ll be honest here… If I had given up blogging at my first hiccup. There would be no article. What keeps me relentlessly motivated and wanting more is passion. And maybe, more importantly, the conviction that Cent by Cent will go somewhere. 

Similarly when it comes to investing, “holding” is the only true strategy. Of course, rebalancing occasionally is important. But to reach the coveted million dollars the best tactic is consistent investing. Whether the market drops or rises you stay in the market. The technical term is Dollar Cost Averaging.

Keep your heart and hope high, success will accompany you. Do not let yourself be shot down and keep growing no matter what.

4. Eyes on the Prize

As an ambitious person, I tend to go from idea to idea. I get excited by many different projects, which end up leading to nothing. Expecting dumb luck or some kind of innate talent. Not realizing that concentrating my energy was the answer. Bruce Lee put it best when he said:

“The successful warrior is the average man, with laser-like focus.”

When it comes to investing, set your end goal and thrive for that. When saving feels pointless this month remember that you do it for tomorrow. Keeping a clear goal in mind and focusing all your efforts on it.

Of course, blind loyalty even to yourself is a Damocles sword. With strong focus comes emotional attachment. Sometimes accepting to take a loss is the best decision you can make. The high focus tends to make that difficult. As we saw with Winston Churchill accepting a failure can define your success! 

I dive into this idea in my article “2020 Retrospective: 10 Important Lessons

I’m not special but if I stay concentrated. I might just become successful.

5. Will it even matter?

“Try not to become a person of success, but rather try to become a person of value.”

This quote by Albert Einstein caught me by surprise. I was tunneling on success.

Society has taught me success is all that matters. 

Yet, does it matter if I must betray my beliefs? 

When making a big decision I always come back to this quote. I ask “what is the cost of this success?”.

From investing to lifestyle decisions, realize your values are what define you. Without them you are but a dragon hoarding money and accolades. Working aimlessly towards growth is an illusion.

The only true measure of your success is how much you grow towards your values. As a way to stay true to my values, I read the poem “If” by Rudyard Kipling weekly.  Alternatively, I explore the idea of setting goals in line with my values in my article “Financial Goals: Why I was Wrong”.

6. Where to start?

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Whether it comes to storytelling, launching a company, or buying a house. We all get started with an idea. Pablo Picasso tells us to take a step back:

“You have to have an idea of what you are going to do, but it should be a vague idea.”

This resonates strongly with me. Of course, having objectives is important. On the other hand, being too specific can feel limiting. When I set off to write a new article I decide on a general topic and let it take me. The more free reign I give myself the more creative I get. 

Similarly when it comes to investments having rigid targets is taxing. I personally am aiming to save 5 digits this year. But I refuse to give myself an objective on returns. No one can control the market and when you are in it in the long run… one year’s returns is a drop in the ocean.

7. Success is accepting imperfection

Success won’t come easy. That’s a given. Success eludes many as they define it as reaching perfection. Perfectly mastering a skill, a perfect recipe or creation are but dreams. 

Have no fear of perfection – you’ll never reach it.

Salvador Dali

I find this quote relaxing. It reminds me that although quality is important – perfection is fiction. When I started Cent by Cent, I would refuse to publish an article if it wasn’t perfect. It took me a month to understand I’ll always find flaws in my work. It’s better to publish and grow than to stagnate and wait for perfection.

The same goes with Personal Finance, I’ve accepted I’ll never rid myself of all unnecessary expenses. It’s impossible simply because sometimes “treating” yourself is a necessity. I try to keep my mistakes to a minimum but accept that I can’t completely avoid them.

So What is success?

No Idea…

Really None.. but isn’t that the beauty of it? 

You are able to create your own definition of success. One thing that seems to be in common is to never back down. Whether it’s in life or in finance, hold your positions and give yourself the time to grow. 

The biggest cause of failure is giving up. On the other hand, I try to remember to not be stubborn. Sometimes, giving up is the best thing you can do. As long as you grow from every endeavour whether it ends in success or failure doesn’t matter.

We must strive to create our own measure of success and to live according to our values!

I would love to hear what you define success as and how you apply it to your everyday life.

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3 Comments

  1. Very interesting post! I think a lot of people think success is very materialistic Or based on status like getting promotions or affording that big house etc.

    Of the quotes you presented here I think the one from Russell Branson resonates most with me when he speaks about being engaged.

    Honestly, I think I will consider my life a success if I’m happy more often than not. If I’m surrounded by people that I love, if I can make a contribution to my society, and if I can find work that’s meaningful to me. That’s what success looks like to me.

  2. Very interesting post! I think a lot of people think success is very materialistic Or based on status like getting promotions or affording that big house etc.

    Of the quotes you presented here I think the one from Richard Branson resonates most with me when he speaks about being engaged.

    Honestly, I think I will consider my life a success if I’m happy more often than not. If I’m surrounded by people that I love, if I can make a contribution to my society, and if I can find work that’s meaningful to me. That’s what success looks like to me.

  3. I like your notes of the famous people failing – when I first read Winston Churchill’s biography I was shocked at how much he failed. If the book had been a work of fiction I wouldn’t have believed it was possible to come back from such failures!

    I’ve experienced similar things to you with blogging where I wanted the perfect post and could spend weeks every evening trying to craft it. I only got over this by taking the risk of getting it out there, even if I felt it wasn’t totally right.

    Finally in terms of success, I’ve always liked this definition of success from Earl Nightingale.
    “Success is really nothing more than the progressive realization of a worthy ideal”
    It just suggests the personal nature of success to the individual.

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