The success race has made us believe that if we haven’t accomplished a rigid list of things by the time we’re 40, it’s already too late. But success isn’t a one-size-fits-all suit that you can force yourself to squeeze in; it could mean something entirely different to you, and that’s perfectly okay!
Whether your idea of success is just making it to the end of the week, finally opening up the store of your dreams, or achieving that degree you’ve always had to put off, success is about finding purpose and happiness in your life, in whatever way works for you.
There are many different views on what success is and how you define it. For example, success can be defined by money, careers, relationships, or even moral or religious considerations. The most significant thing to consider when determining success is whether YOU are satisfied with your own definition of it!
“Success in life is a feeling and doesn’t always equate to financial wealth. Success could stem from inspiring people, raising kind children, doing what you love, and leaving behind a legacy.“
So let’s now review a few example definitions of success.
Table of Contents
What is Success? (6 Definitions)
There are so many ways to measure success, we’ll discuss the most common ways here:
- Success comes from relationships (friends and family). Friends & Family has been an area where people have found happiness for thousands of years. Research shows that having friends makes you happier. Success in personal relationships can be measured by things such as having supportive and loving friends/family members or being loved by others such as spouses/children/friends.
- Success is being able to provide for yourself and your family. This definition of success stems from an evolutionary perspective that humans are tribal creatures by nature. Throughout most of history, the tribe was the most important thing for people because it provided them with security. Even in today’s society, people need to feel like they are capable of providing themselves and their families with what they need.
- Success is leading a successful career. Career success is measured by a sense of accomplishment, progression, and the financial benefits that come with it. For example, you can feel successful when promoted several times. Most people will not define themselves as successful if they have not significantly progressed in their careers.
- Success comes from how much money you possess. This is perhaps one of the most common ways people measure their success: Success comes from having a comfortable lifestyle with luxurious cars or a large home. However, this definition of success also has been observed as being some of the least fulfilling ways to achieve happiness (in other words, this definition can be rather shallow).
- Success is what you are proud to have accomplished in life. This is intentionally open-ended: a person can feel successful as long as they experience pride and happiness about their accomplishments. It could be earning a degree, buying a home or getting a new job, as long as you feel accomplished and proud of your achievement.
- Success is the moral or religious standards you have successfully lived by. This definition of success varies greatly depending on the moral code an individual wants to follow For example, some people feel successful when they live their lives according to religious teachings.
Please rate these definitions of success:
Let’s now review some real-life examples of how people have found success, with 40 inspiring success stories:
40 Inspiring Success Stories About Career, Family, Money, and Life
Here are some real stories about real people that truly redefine what success can mean.
1. McDonald’s worker to Harvard graduate
Shannon Lytle shared his deeply personal and inspiring story on his journey to graduation from Harvard University. As a son of a warehouse worker and an immigrant, Shannon was born in a low-income household, where dreaming of ivy-league schools was deemed far-fetched and unrealistic. From working minimum wage jobs to caring for his three siblings and staying up till 4 am to study, his story teaches us to not let our circumstances limit what we can achieve.
2. Amateur artist challenges herself to become a professional illustrator
Success doesn’t always involve riches and glamour – it can be as simple as finding the courage to pursue something you love doing. Reddit user Asur Misoa first started painting after a request from her boyfriend and hasn’t looked back since! 14 years later, she has quit her old job, is working as an artist and has also painted some follow-up versions of the drawing that got her started!
3. From behind bars to passing The Bar
Having been caught up in the wrong side of the law, Raymond Burns spent much of his early life in prison and had to give up custody of his child. After he got out, he landed a job at Sports Authority, which encouraged him to go for formal education. He got his bachelor’s, passed the bar and got admitted into the Florida Bar. Here’s to not letting your past define you!
4. Graduate honors his late father who worked as a janitor to see him succeed
Anthony L. Brown posted a touching graduation picture dedicated to his father, who worked as a janitor at Rutgers University so his son could receive a free education there. Anthony honored his father’s sacrifice and graduated, writing that every job is important and worthy of respect.
5. Hunter Michael Shepard battled drug addiction and changed his life for the better
Posting before and after pictures online, Hunter Michael talked about his story as a past addict in long term recovery. At one point in his life, he was homeless and severely physically and mentally ill. Now he’s sober and uses his online presence to help people recovering from addiction. Hunter’s story tells us it’s truly never too late to turn your life around.
6. Pink Ribbon Runner crushes cancer to complete her first 5K run for charity
Patricia Prince was out on a walk with her husband, with stage 3 cancer treatments having left her body sore and weak. She was 100 pounds overweight and had been undergoing treatments that had taken a massive toll on her body. While on this walk, she spotted two women who looked to be about her age, dressed in bright sportswear and jogging around the lake. For some reason, this image stuck with Patricia and inspired her to begin her journey to turning her life around.
With her husband’s encouragement, she began running. From gasping for breath after 30 seconds to slowly gaining back her strength, Patricia ran her first-ever 5km fundraiser for breast cancer research, 12 weeks after she first started. But she didn’t stop there. Not only did she kick cancer’s butt, 5 years after her initial race, she ran her first-ever marathon. Wearing a bright pink shirt and crossing the line with tears running down her face. She now works to inspire and support cancer patients and is also the founder of the website Pink Ribbon Runner.
Source: Patricia Prince
7. Marathon runners run late but never give up
A heartwarming picture from the Pittsburgh Marathon shows two women, holding each other’s hands and encouraging each other to keep running despite being the last two people on the field. This is a good reminder that life is not a race. It’s okay to do things in your own time, as long as you never give up on your end goal!
8. Gabe Sonnier becomes the principal of the same school he cleaned for 27 years
Gabe Sonnier was working as a janitor at Port Barre Elementary School when the then principal encouraged him to complete his education. At 39 years of age, while still working as a janitor, Gabe decided to go back to school. In 2008, he went from janitor to teacher and by 2014, was made Principal of the school. In Gabe’s own words, ‘It’s not how you start. It’s how you finish.’
9. Jared Wells beats cystic fibrosis to become a bodybuilder
Jared Wells has been living with cystic fibrosis his entire life. After having a dangerously close call at the hospital, Jared put up a strong fight and started bodybuilding. Having gone from 117 to 152 pounds, Jared’s story demonstrates that there’s no limit to what you can achieve as long as you put your mind to it.
10. Jonah Hill conquers his past bullies and kills it at Jitsu
Conquering your insecurities can be difficult, but Jonah Hill sets an example we all can take away from. After having an aversion to jiu-jitsu because of being beaten up in school, he is now able to see it as an art form and disengage the negative memories associated with the sport. Taking back control of his narrative, he’s already earned his first stripe!
11. Suicide survivor finds success in an unexpected new career
A few years earlier, a photo surfaced of a man standing on the railings of the Golden Gate Bridge, contemplating jumping off. This man was Kevin Berthia. After trying to pay medical bills for his prematurely born daughter, Kevin was in severe debt and had given up all hope. He was talked out of suicide by an on-duty patrol officer and is now a suicide survivor, a sought-after public speaker, and a prominent suicide prevention advocate. You can see how he made great progress here.
12. Former inmate boosts income with a simple entrepreneurial idea
After being refused a job from many places because of his criminal record, Ibrahim Muhammad decided to take things into his own hands. Buying a hotdog cart from Craigslist and getting a Sam’s Club membership, Ibrahim ended up making $300 more in a day than what he was offered!
13. Joseph Valadez goes from prison to college graduate
Joseph Valadez shared photos of himself at his graduation, aiming to encourage people who look like him and want to succeed in life. He spent half his adult life in prison, but got out of that world and graduated from Long Beach with straight A’s. His story is a reminder that you alone are in charge of your life, and it’s never too late to start over.
14. Larry Felton Johnson breaks stigmas and graduates at 67
If you’re someone who compares yourself to people your age and feels like you’re lagging behind, Larry’s here to tell you to not be so hard on yourself. He promised himself to graduate by the time he was 100, and reached his goal 33 years early! You know how they say the night is young. You still have time.
15. Mother and daughter graduate together
Latrice Hunter and her mother graduated university together, posting a picture in their graduation gowns and caps. Latrice’s mother had to drop out 30 years ago, but made sure to go back and finish what she started. Talk about dedication!
16. Farmer studied law for 16 years to sue and win the case against a chemical company that polluted his land
After his village got polluted by a chemical company, Chinese farmer Wang Enlin spent 16 years studying so he could sue them for damaging his home. Having had only 3 years of formal education, Enlin paid a bookstore in corn to let him sit and read law books, using a dictionary to help him. In 2017, he won the lawsuit. The takeaway from this story is that with strong determination, you can achieve just about anything.
17. One-legged cancer patient ran 3,339 miles to raise awareness
When he was 18, Terry Fox lost his leg to cancer. At 21, he ran, one-legged, 3339 miles across Canada to raise money and awareness for cancer research. Today, The Terry Fox Foundation has raised over $850 million to support cancer research. Terry’s ‘Marathon For Hope’ is proof that each of us has the power to make waves in the world.
18. Ben Cichy’s below average grades didn’t stop him from landing two aircrafts on Mars
If you’re struggling academically or feeling not good enough, Ben Cichy assures you that you’ll be alright. He got a 2.4 GPA in his first semester of college and was considering dropping out. Today he has landed two aircrafts on Mars and is designing one to land on the Moon. You’ve got to keep going too.
19. Anurag Gupta’s success stems from standing up for what he believes in
Anurag Gupta had always had a passion for combating ethnic inequality and racism, and he found a way to make his dreams a reality. At 30 years of age, Anurag founded BE MORE, a non-profit initiative that works to target racial inequity in America. As an immigrant, Anurag worked hard to earn his law degree and get to the position he is at today.
20. Melanie Bajrovic goes from barmaid to millionaire investor
As the daughter of immigrants, Melanie Bajrovic had been working to support her family since a young age. She worked as a barmaid but always knew she was cut out for something bigger. At 22 years old, she took the first step to achieve her dream and bought a house. She got into real estate, continued investing in it, worked consistently, and ended up becoming a multi-millionaire by the time she was 27.
21. After working at KFC for years, Faye Lewis finds career success as a Registered Nurse
If you’re feeling the weekly blues, here’s Faye Lewis’ story to inspire you to keep going. Faye had always wanted to be a nurse but started working at KFC at just 16 years of age to support her family. She worked hard and got promoted to Manager, but knew she wanted more.
While working at KFC, she enrolled in an LPN program and managed both jobs. After years of hard work and sacrifice, she graduated in 2016 with a Bachelor’s in Nursing.
22. Special ed student beats the odds to become an author
Ronnie Sidney spent 7 years in Special Education and graduated with a 1.8 GPA. He was told by a teacher that he would never make it to college. Ronnie is now a VCU graduate and has published a graphic novel series. He is a father, a therapist, author, entrepreneur and speaker, and a living example that a disability or poor grades don’t define who you are.
23. College dropout earns two engineering degrees and a full tuition scholarship to Law School
This Reddit user shared his story, and it’s incredibly inspiring to say the least. 10 years ago, he was kicked out of college with a 0.9 GPA. Now, he has graduated Magna Cum Laude with two engineering degrees, having secured a full-tuition scholarship to law school. He rightfully says, “your past failures do NOT dictate your future.”
24. Sheryl Recinos goes from streets to a successful physician
Sheryl Recinos had a dysfunctional upbringing – being in and out of foster care, getting in trouble at school, and facing teenage homelessness. Today, she is an MD, a writer, and an activist, using her platform to advocate for homeless youth. Life does get better, you just have to cling on.
Source: Finally Family Homes
25. Human trafficking survivor turns her life around to earn a law degree and a PhD
At only 13 years of age, Katarina Rosenblatt had seen the worst of the world. She was targeted by a child trafficking ring and was the victim of attempted murder. Battling through abuse, poverty, trauma, and neglect, she came out the other side as an advocate and national speaker, while also receiving a degree in law and a PhD in conflict analysis and resolution. You can see her work at her foundation ‘There is Hope For Me.’
Source: Finally Family Homes
26. Susan transforms herself from a nervous mess to vice-president
Initially, Susan sounded nervous in her leadership presentations at work. Her voice curled up at the end of sentences, her hands clasped nervously in front, she did not stand straight, and had a tendency to get bogged down into talking about a lot of details. All of this pointed to lack of confidence. Through coaching and endless practice, she learned better body language, corrected bad voice patterns, learned to look and sound more authoritative, and focused her communication on strategic thinking. This resulted in several promotions and eventually the vice-president title in her division.
This proves that perhaps the only thing standing in your way is a little more self-confidence.
Source: Rachel Beohm
27. 72-year-old Vietnam war veteran achieves his dream of earning a college graduate
This Vietnam war veteran is living life to the fullest – graduating with honors in A.S. Environmental Horticulture and Design at 72 years of age! If you dream of finishing your education, starting a business, or learning a new skill, it’s never too late. You are never too old to dream a new dream.
28. Building cleaner defies the odds to pass a notoriously tough entrance exam
While students were preparing for Brazil’s notoriously hard university entrance exam, 19-year-old Gabriel Nobre was cleaning the prep building in exchange for free classes to help him prepare. Guess what? He passed!
29. Leeza overcomes drug addiction and homelessness after being on the streets for years
Leeza was living on the streets of New York, battling with homelessness and drug addiction. She persevered and has been off the streets for 3 years, and sober for 2.
30. Andrew Bridge made it out of a chaotic childhood to become a lawyer
Andrew Bridge spent 11 years in the foster care system, confined to a centre where he was abused and neglected. Against all odds, Andrew earned a scholarship to Wesleyan, went on to Harvard Law School, and now is a lawyer, advocate for children’s rights, and author of his book Hope’s Boy.
Source: The Guardian
31. Jordan Insley builds a $100 million company by selling old TVs
15 years ago, Jordan Insley walked into an electronics store and bought some returned TVs that were shoved into the corner. He sold them on eBay for a profit, and by buying returns from the store, turned his life around. He’s now the owner of a $100 million company that processes, refurbished and resells customer returns. This goes to prove that you are only one decision away from transforming your life. Keep an open mind and watch out for opportunities in e-commerce and technology.
32. Police officer becomes a ray of hope for survivors of sexual exploitation
Patrolling the streets of Washington and arresting prostitutes made Deputy Andy Conner curious as to why they were stuck in such a dangerous rut. Upon talking to the people he’d take into custody daily, he learned that these women were not on the streets by choice. Determined to play his part, Deputy Andy took a stand. The Genesis Project, spearheaded by him, guarantees victims of trafficking and poor sex workers on the streets a chance at a better life. You too can make a difference in the world and make your own success story to tell.
33. Couple finds love and life’s greatest purpose
Cynthia Hellmann and Gregory Flatt fell in love with each other’s shared dedication to the Peace Corps. The couple is now working together to give back to their Malian friends, issuing loans, organizing training, and funding projects. Those who are kind together, stay together.
34. WWII labor camp survivor empowers others by sharing her story
Krystyna Balut, 83, is a survivor of the Russian-Polish abductions during the Second World War. Not wanting her story to be untold, she shared it with the world by turning it into an animated documentary and illustrated (graphic) novel titled ‘A Trip To Nowhere’. She empowered other Polish survivors in the region by sharing with them a narrative voice, strengthening our belief of “Never Again!” and truly symbolizing that there is a light at the end of the tunnel. Bulat may have passed away but her legacy lives on.
35. Two engineering students create dolls modeled after accomplished women to inspire young girls
Supriya Hobbs and Janna Eaves completely reject the notion that girls don’t belong in STEM! Having been told NO enough times, they want to ensure that no other young girl goes through self-doubt or believes society’s regressive gender roles. The two young women paired up with the University of Illinois to create dolls of brilliant and influential women in STEM, working to inspire young girls to pursue their dreams, no matter how big.
Source: The Daily Illini
36. Selfless yogi dedicates her life to help at-risk teens find their zen
Erin Lila Wilson understands fully how not being in touch with your body in this digitized age may be making you feel not-so-good. So, she takes her yoga mat, her dedication and her belief in the power of the ancient practice to at-risk children and young people across California, transforming lives wherever she goes. She is selflessly dedicating her life to help these teens find their zen.
37. Cancer patient becomes her own “superhero” to cope with the disease
Tracy Siemer fought a rare form of brain cancer for 21 years and adopted a superhero persona to help her stay strong. This upbeat superhero alter-ego and faith in herself inspired her sister, Jackie Water to share this mechanism with ailing children. Help Your Hero was created in 2013 to commemorate Tracy’s method and help parents of children diagnosed with painful diseases find the right resources. Tracy’s legacy aids kids in finding their inner superhero.
38. Sanitation worker heads to Harvard Law School
Rehan Staton spent his tween years in a fractured home. This continued well into his early 20s. Financial issues, injuries, and the need to support his family left him exhausted but never hopeless. He started working as a sanitation worker, waking at 4am to collect trash with his brother Reggie Staton. With continuous hard work and unwavering dedication, Rehan eventually got accepted into Harvard Law School.
39. Homeless addict arrested under felony warrant emerges on the other side happy and healthy
This Reddit user was living under a bridge homeless and high on drugs. There came a time when he was arrested under a felony warrant for drug possession. Life seemed exhausted with all the doors closed but he never lost hope. Instead he worked on getting better and kept fighting. Now he is drug-free, healthy, and happy with the love of his life.
40. 77-year-old becomes the managing superintendent of the same building that he collected trash from
Life surprises you in the best ways if you keep holding onto hope and working hard. Back in the ‘60s, Cookie used to collect the trash left over by construction workers of a building being built in Florida. Now, more than 50 years later, he has made his way up and works as the managing superintendent of the entire building at 77 years of age.
Please rate this list of success stories:
7 Tips to Help You Achieve Success
There are many definitions of success, but we have found that the vast majority of successful people exhibit similar characteristics. Based on our learnings, we have identified the following 7 essential tips:
1. Focus on Your Passion: At the root of all success you’ll find desire. Desire is a strong feeling or wanting to have something happen. It is a driving force which can give you the motivation to do whatever it takes to achieve success.
“Success is not the key to happiness. Happiness is the key to success. If you love what you are doing, you will be successful.” -Albert Schweitzer
2. Take Action & Initiate: I equate initiative with personal action. Things will only begin to happen when you start to make things happen. You can have the best plans, ideas and thoughts in your mind and nothing will happen until you take action. A Chinese proverb stated “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step”.
“The way to get started is to quit talking and begin doing.” -Walt Disney
3. Persevere through Challenges: Tied closely to hard work is perseverance, continuing forward without regard to discouragement, opposition or previous failure. If you want to succeed you have to “stick with it”. It may be discouraging to face failure again and again when practicing a particular skill or starting a new venture, but that’s how success is created – by keeping on trying even after you’ve failed.
“Most of the difference between people who succeed and people who don’t, is that the people who don’t succeed give up. They give up sooner than the people who succeed” – Steve Jobs
4. Learn & Get Better: No matter what the subject or endeavor, whatever you are becoming excellent at is a success. Doing what you do better than most others in your field will put you on the path of success. Take a look around and see who’s doing what you want to be doing and emulate them. Be willing to learn from anyone who can teach you something new. To achieve excellence, you can read books, take online courses, get a degree, observe other leaders, or take the time for “Self-reflection” to brainstorm how you can become better at what you do.
“Leadership and learning are indispensable to each other.” – John F. Kennedy
5. Use Deliberate Practice to Get Better: Not all practice makes perfect. You need a particular kind of practice—deliberate practice—to develop expertise. Deliberate practice involves concentrating hard on what you’re doing, continually seeking feedback from mentors and coaches and keeping track of the mistakes you make—and learning from them.
“Deliberate practice always feels bad to somebody. It might feel good for a while, when you start learning something new, but before long, the process of deliberate practice will begin to feel difficult and awkward. You will have tough days or even tough weeks.” – Anders Ericsson
6. Work Hard: The Malcolm Gladwell theory about the ‘10,000 hour rule’ is that people who push themselves to become experts in their field by doing 10,000 hours of really hard work. They’re not just thinking about it or picking up skills; they’re out there putting in 10,000 hours. Gladwell claims that greatness requires a lot of work and used the Beatles and Bill Gates as examples. The Beatles performed live in Germany over 1,200 times from 1960 to 1964, for a total of over 10,000 hours of playing time. Gates spent 10,000 hours programming when gaining access to a high school computer in 1968 at the age of 13.
“Working really hard is what successful people do.” -Malcolm Gladwell.
7. Take Time For Daily Self-Reflection: Many business leaders, sports stars and even spiritual leaders cite self-reflection as an essential key to success. This is also true for ‘everyday people’ who are fulfilled and happy with their lives. Success in this area means you are able to reflect on your life and see what is really important to you, what you should do, what will make you happy, what goals you should have, and how to best achieve your goals.
“Self-reflection entails assessing your strengths and failures, thinking about your perceptions and interactions with others, and imagining where you want to take your life in the future.” – Robert L. Rosen