It's very hard to pin down a universal definition of success, because there are many components that can go into your vision of a successful entrepreneurial lifestyle:
- financial: survival, independence, wealth, extreme wealth
- inspirational: making do, making a small or big positive difference, enabling huge positive change
- emotional: being unhappy, happy, enthusiastic, ecstatic about your work
- relational/life balance: having no time for others, having some time, having a lot of time, having complete freedom of how you spend your time
- educational: learning nothing, learning a little, learning a lot, becoming a world expert
- organisational: being chaotic, somewhat organised, well organised, running like clockwork
- environmental: being neutral/negative, helping a bit, a lot, solving a major environmental challenge
- fame: unknown, known in a small or large circle, world-famous
One might find it easier to try and list the things that cannot be a component of a person's vision of success, than those that can. Success is an extremely subjective idea. Everyone has their own definition, and no generic definition will suit even a large minority, let alone a majority of people.
Even if we pick a specific context, like, say, someone working in a corporate environment and looking to get out, the definition of "success" can vary extremely widely depending on outlook, ambition, and personal circumstances.
However, unless you know what success looks like to you, it will be much harder to visualise it, work out what you need to get there, and achieve it. It's really worth making that effort for yourself. What are you trying to achieve? How will you know when you've done it?
Of course, that's all about defining one's own success. What about defining the success of others? With the question posed in this way, it is easier to answer, because we are generally more willing to simplify the goals of others than our own.
Finding a definition of "success" that a large number of people will agree reflects their own definition for themselves is almost impossible. Finding one that reflects what people mean when they point at someone else and say "this guy/girl is successful" is markedly easier.
Looking at it in that way, and focusing on purely the financial element (which is common amongst most, if not all, entrepreneurs), I think we can agree that there is a simple hierarchy of financial success for entrepreneurs:
- Survival: can generate enough revenues to survive without needing to take investment or get a job;
- Comfort: can generate enough revenue to be able to live well;
- Wealth: generates more than enough revenues (or sells the company) to be able to live wealthily ever after;
- Mega-wealth: generates ridiculous amounts of money.
I think it's fair to say that an entrepreneur who is able to reliably create businesses that will enable them to survive without needing external help is already successful to some respectable measure. However, most people are not satisfied with this level, and will go on to at least level 2, where they can live well off the revenues which they generate. Finally, few will progress onto stage 3, and almost none to stage 4.
There are many other possible goals for an entrepreneur, but all of them typically become easier to achieve with financial success, so in almost all cases, financial success is worth considering. However, many entrepreneurs fail to reach even level 1 (largely, as I've argued before, through predictable errors). This site's aim is to help founders reach at least level 1.
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