What Is True Success?

When I was a kid, I thought I was THE MAN if I could tie my own shoes.

In high school, I thought I was The Man if I could get a rad and beautiful girlfriend. (And in California, being “rad” was where it was at, let me tell you ;))

In college, it was the highest GPA – and more importantly the person who could throw the best parties.

And after that it was the best jobs, coolest “things” and eventually the most money.

Somewhere along that track I wised up and realized none of those things actually define “true success” but BOY did it take a while! And boy is everyone around us still chasing them.

If you signed up to some of those newsletters I read every morning, you might know exactly where I’m going with this. The following excerpt was in a recent Thought of The Day by Napoleon Hill:

“Whatever your faith may be, a good rule of everyday behavior is to live your life so that when it is over you can take pride in the knowledge that you have made a difference in the lives of those who have known you. It’s easy in the crush of everyday life to lose sight of the true riches of life, the things that really matter. Psychologist Ilona Tobin defines true success as “giving and receiving love, having physical and mental health, enough wealth to provide you with options, and the time to enjoy them all.”

Love, health, wealth, and TIME –  now that’s a definition of success! With the last part being one of the most important, and which we only have certain control over. (IE – how we spend (and plan) our time on the days we’re blessed to be alive on this great Earth)

Notice there was also a nice mention of money in there, but with words like “enough” and “options” close by. That’s really the whole point of it all, isn’t it? To have enough money so you don’t even need to think about it? And how perfect it fits in despite the whole message being rather spiritual too… Not unlike another eloquent passage we’ve seen around here before ;)

Let’s dive into these sections even more…

Giving and receiving love — The first mentioned, and rightfully so. I don’t know anyone who hates being loved (even if they don’t show it), and it’s something to step back and remind ourselves of ESPECIALLY as we’re prone to chase the $$$ around each corner… If I had a wallet I’d put a picture of my two precious boys in it to remind me of this every time I open it up :) If anyone embodies giving and receiving love, it’s them. (Except for when we say no to candy – yikes)

Having physical and mental health — Also a very important area! Can’t enjoy life much without a working body or brain… Now if only the two would combine forces better and GET US TO EXERCISE MORE!! Ugh…. How can such relatively smart people understand how important eating and staying healthy is, but still make it a last priority in their daily lives? (And by relatively smart people I mean myself). I swear I need a health coach just as bad as some of y’all need a money coach. It’s just so boring!!! :) I need you health nuts to please start blogs so I can get motivated over here kthxbye.

Enough wealth to provide you with options — The whole reason we’re here! For the freedom to choose how we spend our lives, right? Notice it doesn’t say anything about needing “a million dollars” or to be “rich beyond belief” either. It says “enough.” Which can be interpreted a number of different ways depending on who you ask, but at the end of the day is the goal we should all be striving for. And to then have the smarts to know WHEN we’ve hit “enough” too!

And lastly… The time to enjoy them all — The best line of the whole passage.  Everything comes down to *time*. And I think that’s the scariest part about this money stuff – that we won’t make it to the other side to be able to enjoy all the freedom it brings. The exact fear people around us harness to justify spending it all now “because you never know what tomorrow will bring!” Which is of course true, however, odds are very much in our favor that we’ll be living quite a long time on this beautiful Earth of ours. So just like everything else in our lives it’s always a balancing act. And either extreme can send you down a pretty tumultuous path. (Look at me using big words!)

Which means we need to be doing the following two things:

  1. Making sure to appreciate our lives in the here and now and not obsessing about all our goals all the time! (Though of course important).
  2. Continuing to lower how much it costs us to live so we can shrink the time to ultimate freedom. Because as we all know, the higher your lifestyle the longer you’ll need to keep working to sustain it!

This is the exact reason behind early retirement, of course. It’s not that you don’t want to work anymore and be a complete bum (although you could if you wanted to), it’s to be able to ENJOY LIFE fully and take advantage of all that loving and physical/mental health, as well as your money you’ve so diligently accrued over your lifetime. And the earlier you hit it, the more time you have to enjoy it!

(PS: If you have no idea how far you are to financial freedom, download this spreadsheet and find out)

So how do we do all this without killing ourselves in the process? Well, that’s the tricky part :) And the reason we’re all here on $$ blogs and trying to get better at it – myself included. I go in phases of hustling my ass off and taking long breaks, but throughout there always has to be that reminder of the “why” to keep us pushing forward.  And it’s very much possible that it’s “all in the journey” as they say. (I can tell you more definitively when I reach the other side ;))

At any rate, I thought that was one of the best definitions of true success that I had seen and wanted to pass it over to you… “Giving and receiving love, having physical and mental health, enough wealth to provide you with options, and the time to enjoy them all.”

How do you define true success? Anything you’d add or take away?

However you define it, always do your best to get your daily actions to line up accordingly. And know you’ll fail a lot throughout the journey too! That’s the only part I would add here… Having the strength to keep fighting the good fight!

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  1. Chris Muller November 4, 2015 at 5:34 AM

    You’re goin’ deep this mornin’ J… I’ll define true success as a continuous process of meeting smaller milestones. I think to your point about not focusing on the future as much (at least that’s how I am interpreting it) and instead living in the now, you’ll be able to set up smaller goals/milestones. Success is achieving those – whatever they are. Those milestones should be important to YOU and ones that make you happy in life. We can sit around all day and bitch about not having any money and wish we were able to retire early, but then we’re missing out on the ride (like you said). I just read a blog post on the Wallet Diet last night that talked about the culture in Italy. People are slower there – not physically but time-wise. They stop to enjoy their surroundings. They’re never in a hurry. Yet we are. It forces us to not enjoy the present like we could/should. After I read that I made a vow to try to slow it down and live more in the moment. Because you’re right…you never know what tomorrow will bring.

    1. J. Money November 4, 2015 at 7:27 AM

      YES! Italy has it right!!! I bet their laws there saying you can’t check your phone in public or something, haha… I wish we had that here. I feel like time/busyness/stress has skyrocketed since these mini computers now fit in our hands. I honestly don’t know if it’s helping or hurting people more?

  2. Slackerjo November 4, 2015 at 5:51 AM

    I think being well adjusted is means success as there are SO MANY THINGS out there that can sabotage success and happiness.

  3. Ramona November 4, 2015 at 7:22 AM

    Having enough money to care for our child and ourselves. Not luxury, we were once poor, so we’re probably not made for riches. Be able to work for ourselves (our 2 small businesses) and spend as much time as possible with our daughter. For me this is the key: to be by her side as much as I can.

    1. J. Money November 4, 2015 at 7:30 AM


  4. Mr. Largo @ Band of Savers November 4, 2015 at 7:29 AM

    Good post J., this one rally makes you think and do a personal inventory session. I don’t know that best way to add it to the definition above but I think that it’s important to remember that it isn’t a true success if you have to lower your standards in order to achieve these goals (ie: theft, lying, cheating…) For example, if you aced an exam in school but had to cheat to do it your score doen’t truely reflect a success because you don’t know the material.

    1. J. Money November 4, 2015 at 7:33 AM

      Good one :)

  5. Kalie November 4, 2015 at 7:35 AM

    That is a great and inspiring definition of success. Time and wealth can definitely be a tension along the way, as you described with periods of intense hustling followed by breaks. Sometimes I wish there was a period balance or solution along the way to financial independence, but viewing wealth as giving options throughout the journey helps. We can be content with less time or money while we are working toward bigger goals.

  6. JoeTaxpayer November 4, 2015 at 8:26 AM

    Post-retirement, my goal is to make a difference. I love writing about finance and helping as many as I can through my own blog.
    But, more rewarding to me is the 2 days a week I spend in the Math Center at a local high school. It’s now my third year doing this, and I swear I’ll never tire of the students walking in just to tell me the grade of their last exam. Whether it’s their first B, up from failure, or the calculus student who said, “I got a 96. It was the highest score in the class.” Even better, when a student tells me, “I could not have passed math without your help.”
    This year, I’m looking forward to hearing from the seniors, and finding that their improved math grades made the difference to get them into a college where they otherwise wouldn’t have made the cut. That’s success, an impact on others. (And yes, when I buy pencils for my room, they’re $9 for 8 dozen at Costco. :) )

    1. J. Money November 4, 2015 at 12:51 PM

      I love hearing that, Joe :) And having met you in person I know how much your enthusiasm shows! Those kids are so fortunate to have you around!

  7. Steve @ Think Save Retire November 4, 2015 at 8:45 AM

    Love this article. Success can be a tough one to define because there’s just so much out there that we, as people, can succeed at. But for me, success is defined as simply “living a good life” and being the absolute best person that I can possibly be. If I can look myself in the mirror every night and feel content that the choices that I made that day were positive and wholesome, that is really all I ever need.

    I don’t necessarily believe that the minute I retire, I automatically “achieve” success as if it were some ribbon or gold metal, either. The pursue of success can be everlasting and success I believe comes and goes – it is amorphous. It is that sweet spot, of sorts, during life when the decisions that you are making (and have made) serve as positive contributions to your life’s goals.

    For me, the longer that I can honestly tell myself that I’m “living success”, the better. It is not some net worth number that I dream up. It’s not the accomplishment of THIS or THAT goal. Accomplishing goals are wonderful, but my version of success is much more fundamental than that.

    1. J. Money November 4, 2015 at 12:54 PM

      “Dor becomes Father Time and has to listen to every person who laments about not having enough time” – hahaha… that is quite a punishment! :)

  8. Money Beagle November 4, 2015 at 8:54 AM

    The measure of success always changes. Now, with a family, I base how I feel in terms of success on how things are at home. Ten years ago, when I was single, that was entirely different. I think it shifts and in the end you have to realize what the true important things are, as they’re the things that will last.

  9. Lisa O November 4, 2015 at 9:17 AM

    My feeling of success is that I have raised two wonderful children, married to a man that I consider my best friend, been blessed with good health and a career that has always kept me employed. While we may not be rich with money….we are rich in every way that truly matters :)

    Success is any goal you set and accomplish no matter how big or how small!

  10. Dee @ Color Me Frugal November 4, 2015 at 9:21 AM

    I love that definition of success. I think so often it’s easy to define success in terms of a career and accomplishments, but I didn’t see that anywhere in the definition! It really helps put things in perspective in terms of what is really important in life.

  11. Tonya@Budget and the Beach November 4, 2015 at 9:25 AM

    OH man, it’s too early in the morning for this loaded question. Maybe you’ve inspired a post from me at this point. I know part of the equation is feeling content. Not necessarily happy, as people seem to think this is some kind of destination, when it’s really not. Part of it is overall wellbeing, feeling comfortable in life…oh so much to think about. I know it doesn’t have to do with the size of my wallet though. OK, here is my health coach speech: sign up for some kind of parks and rec sport: flag football, ultimate frisbee, basketball, whatever seems like fun. Yes it’s an expense, but I find that kind of stuff starts the inertia process, because it’s fun. Sign up for a 5k with the goal that you will NOT walk it, so you NEED to train. I think one of the mistakes people make is going balls to the wall immediately after having not done much for awhile. It’s too much. Ease in and make something…anything, a daily 5 minute habit until you can build from there. The goal is to get to a point where you can almost NOT exercise. It would be like not brushing your teeth. At the very least focus on diet. If you can’t exercise “enough,” but very cautious of what you eat. It’s 80% food, 20% exercise when it comes to overall good health and weight. Also, I forget how old your kids are (I think one might be old enough), but just get outside and throw a ball, or go to the playground and partake in the activities, throw a frisbee…anything to just get moving.

    1. J. Money November 4, 2015 at 12:56 PM

      Yes to sports!!! I totally forgot that’s how I got my exercise in years ago before kids… I agree – such an easy way to have fun and cheat :) I do take walks every day with the kids, but they need to start learning how to run faster so I can get my heart rate up haha…

  12. Mr. SSC November 4, 2015 at 9:39 AM

    I think everyone’s definition of success changes throughout life. My definition was rooted in earning money and a lot of it so I didn’t have to worry about money, like I experienced growing up. Also being able to afford nice cars, big house, etc… So, then I got there, and um, yeah, while I feel successful in that my hard work paid off really well, I’d rather walk away from it to have more time to spend with the family. That’s the main driver behind our Lifestyle Change plans. Provided everything stays on track, then in 3 yrs or less, we can make that happen.
    What I define success as now, I can’t tell you, but I can tell you that it’s no longer rooted in material goods and wealth. Not that it’s a secret, I just haven’t redefined it for myself yet. :)

    1. J. Money November 4, 2015 at 12:58 PM

      Fascinating that you reached your initial goal of success! I guess sometimes you figure it out once you get there that it’s not what we wanted, eh?

  13. Fervent Finance November 4, 2015 at 9:55 AM

    Up until about 25 years old I defined success by how much money you made. Then when I moved to NYC, and realized that a lot of people just work 60 hours a week for a lot of money, but then spend it on dinners and drinks in their free time to “have fun” while not working. I realized fast this was unhealthy to your overall bodily health and to your wallet. I wonder how much of a role moving to NYC changed my perception of success.

    Instead of being the workaholic I wanted to be the guy that worked 40 hours a week and had time for the gym, some hobbies, and his family/friends.

    1. J. Money November 4, 2015 at 12:58 PM

      It’s taken me 3 years to try and un-workaholic myself and I still struggle… and I don’t even live in NYC which I agree is pretty fast-paced/career oriented when I used to live there too.

  14. Tiffany Alexy November 4, 2015 at 10:28 AM

    You hit the nail on the head. I’ll also add… to me success is all about balance. I tend to overextend myself sometimes and I have to consciously make myself take a step back and re-evaluate how much I can handle, and why I’m doing what I’m doing. This is vital in my opinion. I am super driven and goal-oriented and I have to have a plan… but there are certain things (like music, running in the woods, etc.) that make me reflect on everything and make sure that I’m doing what I’m doing because I WANT to be doing it. Otherwise everything just gets lost in the shuffle.

  15. Reelika @Financially Wise On Heels November 4, 2015 at 10:34 AM

    First of all, I LOVE this topic! I once wrote about my family’s financial success and many were surprised what this was really about. I consider success to be any improvement. For instance, my family reached financial success, which in our case was moving into a one-bedroom apartment with running water, a bath and an inside restroom. Even small improvements matter, because they add up and make a difference.

    1. J. Money November 4, 2015 at 1:00 PM

      Oh man, I bet your story is just fascinating… I need to dig through more of your articles :)

  16. Hannah November 4, 2015 at 10:36 AM

    Hey J,

    Health and fitness is a much bigger niche than personal finance. Like, way bigger. It’s not for lack of resources that you’re not exercising, but I’m with you. It’s tough to change our systems to get moving and lifting again.


  17. zut November 4, 2015 at 11:07 AM

    Not sure about success but trying to make a difference…we are currently fostering a puppy. He was rescued from a kill shelter in Houston. Booooooo!!!! The little guy is loving life and more importantly feeling like a dog instead of being inside a cage.


    1. J. Money November 4, 2015 at 1:01 PM

      You’re his angel!!

  18. Justin @ Root of Good November 4, 2015 at 11:43 AM

    Success is having enough to be able to do whatever the hell you want with your time! From that freedom naturally flows the ability to gain success in all other parts of life.

  19. Harmony November 4, 2015 at 12:25 PM

    We need a more fluid and flexible definition of sucess, but this one is pretty good. I think about our future as a kaleidoscope, because I expect the focus of our life to be constantly shifting with our attention always focusing on some different combination of the pieces that make up the big picture. Life is not static. For us, sucess will be the ability to control these peices and enable the more-beatuiful colors (family, self-enrichment, and helping others) to dominate our kaleidoscope.

    1. J. Money November 4, 2015 at 1:01 PM

      That’s cute :)

  20. EL November 4, 2015 at 12:27 PM

    I recently wrote about this and the whole topic about success is important to me.

    To me real success is a preferred mix of happiness based around having a joyous family base, a life where the work that matters brings a smile, a journey of constant creativity that begets fun activities, and hobbies intermingled with entertainment in order to tie up life’s balance with a bow.

    taken Directly from my post.

  21. Revanche November 4, 2015 at 1:06 PM

    I’ve already failed on the health front for the most part :P so my substitute for that is: leave the world a better place than you found it. Doesn’t matter if it’s big or small, I keep my eye on whether or not my actions and goals are ultimately trying to do better. In fact, to quote Reed Richards’ father in Fantastic Four (1998) #572: When you grow up, I expect more. Son, I expect better. I want you to be a better friend than I was. Be a better husband. Be a better father… Reed, be a better man.”

    Man or woman, I think it’s a great wish for your kid, isn’t it?

    1. J. Money November 4, 2015 at 1:38 PM

      LOVE THAT!!!

  22. Tawcan November 4, 2015 at 2:19 PM

    Boy J Money, aren’t you pulling a deep one today. :)

    Love, health, wealth, and time – I would add making a difference to others. I think the ultimate success is to have all the four you mentioned and being able to help out others. I learned years ago at a funeral that success isn’t just about money, it’s how many people wanting to show up at you funeral to pay respect to you and how you left a huge impact in their lives.

    1. J. Money November 7, 2015 at 2:57 PM

      Interesting way to think of it!

  23. Mario November 4, 2015 at 3:47 PM

    It’s interesting how much our definition of success evolves over our lifetimes. I’ve settled up a current definition that’s pretty close to yours. I do often wonder, though, if my definition will change as I get older

  24. Lance @ HealthyWealthyIncome November 4, 2015 at 5:49 PM

    I just like to see my daughter achieve. I love watching her learn to swim, ride a bike, read, and other things. I find it far more satisfying than an extra $1,000. I’ve got the money thing down and rolling, but success often comes from being able to spend time doing what I want with my family. I also like trying new things, that excites me even if they don’t succeed. Life can be fun and successful even during failures.

    1. J. Money November 7, 2015 at 2:58 PM


  25. Taylor November 4, 2015 at 7:50 PM

    As far as I’m concerned, you totally nailed it on what success means! My top priority are the people I love, no contest. Spending time with them and not having to worry about money while I’m with them are the dream. When it comes down to it, I guess my desires are fairly simple, haha.

    The only one I would add for myself is helping others. I don’t think I could ever be completely fulfilled unless I felt I was contributing something positive to the world. (cliche, I know) Thanks for the post. I thoroughly enjoy your retrospective side ;) hah

    1. J. Money November 7, 2015 at 2:59 PM

      Gotta get serious up in here every now and then ;)

  26. Free to Pursue November 5, 2015 at 10:28 AM

    Ha! It appears we’re on the same wave length this week ;). I couldn’t agree more.

  27. Elizabeth November 5, 2015 at 7:56 PM

    I struggle with this. Honestly, actually – in a spiritual/philosophical sense – I’m not sure there is such a thing as success. Defining it in terms of health or fitness would rule out the infirm and disabled. Defining it materially or financially rules out any hope of success for large swaths of humanity. Defining it in terms of time damns the elderly and terminally ill. Many people will remain single or can’t procreate or lose their family members – or have troubled ones – so even defining it in terms of being able to give love seems unjust/unnecessary.

    Yet all humans can achieve contentment and happiness – enlightenment, if you want to go there. Some amazing inspirational stories have been recorded by those without any “success” or wealth in terms of physical or material or even familial achievement. So clearly there is more to it. I should probably dwell on this fact a little more often.

    1. J. Money November 7, 2015 at 3:01 PM

      Maybe success = happiness, plain and simple? can include anyone and everyone regardless of their situation or how they define happiness? Interesting way to dissect it as you have – got my brain thinking more too now :)

  28. Jayson @ Monster Piggy Bank November 6, 2015 at 8:57 PM

    Nice J Money. I think true success is when I feel well satisfied and have achieved my goals. It is also a true success when I can share my knowledge with others so that they can as well achieve true success. That’s what I am aiming for.