As I shared in my last post, I’m on a personal journey to define success. It’s something we all want, but many of us have no idea what we’re actually chasing. I liked the word “success” but had no idea what it really meant to me personally. Acknowledging that, I took a step back and started asking questions. I was curious how other people were defining success, so I created a simple survey and asked a diverse group of people to share their insights on the topic. Then I collected their responses and listened…

In my last post, I asked the question, “Think about the most successful people you know. What qualities have led to their success?” You can read the characteristics people shared here. I was able to distill the responses down to seven traits: Grit, Authenticity, Generosity, Connections, Self-Awareness, Curiosity, and Faith.

Today in this post, I’m moving on to my second question, “What three words would you use to describe those successful people?” With the qualities of success named, I wanted to create a vocabulary for talking about it. When I asked this question, I knew that there would be some overlap with the responses from the first question. Not only did I expect to see that, but I was also looking for it and created the two questions to find it. Where there was overlap between the responses in these two questions, there would be gold. That’s what I was mining for.

Here are the words people shared, grouped into categories…



Words they shared: Mindful, aware, vigilant, attentive, thoughtful, discerning, intentional, wise, learning

Successful people are thinkers. They pay attention to what’s going on around them, which allows them to see opportunities, other people’s challenges, and potential in the world. Their ability to be observant gives them unique insights into the world around them and themselves, which is a great advantage. 



Words they shared: Self-less, humble, compassionate, equitable, caring, empathy, client-focused, helpful, contribution, forgiving, loving

Successful people are givers. They focus first on others and see sharing their energy, skills, and knowledge as a privilege. This includes being giving in the form of openly forgiving others, living with empathy, and stepping into another’s shoes. 



Words they shared: Resilient, committed, stubborn, dedicated, determined, strong,  stretching, failure

Successful people are persistent. They understand that success doesn’t always come easily and can include some knockdowns and black eyes. They view failure through the lens of the learning it offers and challenges as obstacles that they can overcome. Quit is not in their vocabulary.



Words they shared: Curious, creative, innovative, visionary, problem-solvers

Successful people are outside-the-box thinkers. They approach their world with wonder and imagination, and they are constantly asking themselves if there is a better way to do everything. They see “impossible” as an opportunity to ask better questions, most that begin with “What if…?”



Words they shared: Authentic, approachable, magnetic, positive, inspiring, empowering, motivating, exciting, comfortable

Successful people are real. They don’t hide behind masks. Instead, they leverage their authentic selves, scars and all, to their advantage. They understand that authenticity and positivity are magnetic and that in our best relationships, we motivate and empower one another. 



Words they shared: Driven, goal-oriented, initiative, action, competitive, winner, focused

Successful people are hustlers. They know the power of setting a goal, chasing it, and finishing strong to accomplish the mission. Focused-action is a tool they embrace, using it to turn their dreams and wishes into reality.



Words they shared: Integrity, honest, responsible, character, trustworthy, aligned

Successful people are good. They have aligned their lives and their definition of success around their core values. Character matters to them and the people in their circles know that they are trustworthy, responsible, and honest – which makes them strong partners.



Words they shared: Courageous, confident, vulnerable, open

Successful people are brave. They know the value of taking risks and aren’t afraid to step into risks to challenge the status quo and achieve the next level in whatever they want. There is vulnerability here. Courage does not mean they are fearless. It simply means they take action even in the midst of their fear.



Words they shared: Balanced, level-headed, full-picture

Successful people are steady. They live full, whole lives. Too often, our picture of success requires giving up one thing to have another… we give up family to focus on work or give up relationships to chase money. Successful people find balance in their lives, never tilting too far in one direction or the other. 



Words they shared: Purposeful, intrinsically-motivated, passionate, meaningful

Successful people are “why” focused. They know what their purpose is in life, and they’ve invested time to define what that purpose is. They live meaningful lives and are passionate about how their “why” and purpose can be a launchpad for their success. 



Words they shared: Grateful, God, Content

These three words were each shared once in the responses. Each carries a lot of power, in my opinion, which is why they ended up here. 

First, successful people are grateful. They are thankful for the gifts they have today and the success they’re going to create tomorrow. As much as we all have moments in life where we want more, we have to be careful not to let “more” define our success. Gratitude needs to be what grounds us on our journey toward success.

Second, successful people embrace faith. This may not look the same for you and me, but the reality is that the spirit plays a crucial role in creating a successful life. A good friend of mine shared with me the other day that he defined success as his submission to God, in essence, letting God’s plans play out in his life. Submit and be successful – not the expected answer but one I’m eager to write more about later…

Finally, successful people are content. They’re happy where they’re at, even while they are uncomfortable enough to want to create something more. Part of their success comes from being comfortable in their discomfort – and then being driven to keep working. It’s an interesting push-pull relationship that we can all learn from.


The Takeaway

Defining the qualities of success in single words is a powerful exercise. When I compare these words to successful people’s qualities in my last post, I am beginning to see some patterns. We now have an idea of what characteristics successful people share and the words we would use to build the vocabulary of success. 

With that in mind, I’m excited to share the responses to my next question, “In one or two sentences, what is your definition of success?” This is where the answers got even more interesting, as I let people explain what success looks like to them in their lives. The diversity of the group led to diverse responses… and at the same time, there were common threads that showed up again. 

Follow me here to learn what people shared… and thank you for taking this journey with me! – John