The Real Secret to ‘Success’

Rick Andrade – at CEO World Magazine


So. Who owns the definition of Success: Webster, Wikipedia, Wall Street, your raving fans, or you?

Success 2023: (noun)

  1. The achievement of something desired, planned, or attempted.
  2. The gaining of fame or prosperity. 

Look it up! Nearly every online dictionary prints the same definition. Success is synonymous with achieving something: power, fame, fortune, all of it. But nothing about how you’re supposed to feel about it. So, what’s happened? Where has that simple happy feeling of Success gone today?

Did you know the word Success was first printed in the 1530s according to etymology research. And the definition then unlike now included something more, ‘a happy outcome.’

The earliest definition I can find comes from Samuel Johnson’s “A Dictionary of the English Language,” published in 1755, which defined “Success” as:

Success (1755): (noun) [succès, Fr. successus, Latin] “The termination of any affair happy or unhappy.”

That’s odd. We think of Success today as a point of achievement that only makes you “Happy.” And only unsuccessful people are unhappy. But what was perhaps an early warning from our thoughtful ancestors appears today to have fallen away.

Part of the reason is our culturally persistent pedestal praise of over-achievers and our preponderance to over-label them as the definition of Success in America. We then further burden them and ourselves with an ancient Roman-era Gladiator games addiction to perennial blood lust in the arena. And for those who waver, death. Welcome to the modern definition of Success.

In fact, the origins of successful people may surprise you.

The best book to read about how a seemingly unlikely person becomes a big Success isn’t from a Harvard Ph.D. or an experienced CEO, or entrepreneur. It’s Malcolm Gladwell’s 2008 Outliers: The Story of Success, in my opinion.

Gladwell is a Canadian and staff writer for the New Yorker and penned 7 books on social and psychology issues. He likes to go deep. And as an outsider looking in his research suggests that Success is less about ambition, luck, and connections, you still need those. But the very best of us most unknowingly have subscribed to the “10,000 hours rule,” which says it takes 10,000 hours practice (4 hrs/day, 5 days/week for 10 years) focused on a single task to elevate your notable abilities and profile into the top 5% echelon of your field. Drop the mike.

From sports stars and Hollywood celebrities to Wall Street titans, Gladwell articulates how your fame and/or fortune was most likely a practiced and predictable outcome at an early age. That said, my gripe with the game of Success is not the effort, but why too little time is spent on teaching and learning how to be happy once you get there.

Ask a watercooler colleague. How will Success make you feel? Most will say: Great! Why?

I find it odd that “the feeling” of Success isn’t a part of the newest definition of the word. Why is that? It should be. I see many CEOs and business leaders that are by definition so to speak very successful, but they don’t feel that way. Why is that?

Maybe feeling like a Success means you have to be a Winner?

When I was 17, a high school senior and baseball player I hit a game-winning grand slam home run at Hillhouse High back in the day. And it felt magical. The ball flew off the end of my bat like a crackling bolt of lightning, up and out over the fence, a blast of rare beauty.  Everyone watching that ball arc out of sight felt it too, jumping to their feet, screaming and cheering. And after I rounded the bases and landed both feet on home plate it was official, team mates gushing from the dugout piling onto me, I was the Babe. A real winner. A dream come true stand-out Success. And I made the news.

But then, as is the nature of humanity, when the after-party ended, the fan-fair died down, and the glory in the arena faded, it was over. Just like that. To reach that level again I would need another grand slam homer, and another, and another. But it never happened. The Babe had seen his last big blast. I felt empty. The feeling of Success had become nothing more than an obsession to repeat that victory win, and it pulled me away from other more important things. It would take years to learn the difference between being a winner and feeling a Success.

Still. If Success is all about winning then it doesn’t take much looking in America to find it. It’s everywhere all in your face famous home run hitters, movie stars, billionaire moguls and award-winning over-achievers. We elevate them because we identify with them, and their rags to riches 10,000 hour backstories.

Success in America comes from the external praise from others, and the cash. Lots of cash. Combined it forms a veneer of invincibility fed by an alchemy of self-achievement. And the greater the ‘fix,’ the greater the need to achieve more and more.

Therein lies the downside.

In America it seems nearly all wealthy successful people are happy, at least on the outside, right? Misery comes with the territory they say. Just never let them see you cry. That’s borne on the inside, and nothing that can’t be disguised from sight.

For younger executives the downside of Success is the growing sacrifice paid in time away from family, and the silent damage toll that accumulates with the voluntary surrender to the addiction.

For many it’s the job, the unwitting result of 10,000 hours of competitive drive and effort over time to reach the very top. And it’s here, high in the clouds where they discover the bitter dark side of Success in America.

Dr. Steven Bergas, author of The Success Syndrome: Hitting Bottom When You Reach The Top, gets to the point. He defines the dark side of Success as the Success Syndrome, when feelings of great Success are followed by feelings of depression and despair from the constant need to perform and to live up to one’s own past achievements, like a Gladiator, a consecutive grand slam home run hitter, or business leader. These are feelings not seen from the outside.

To the outside world you’re a big star, a key essential prime example of the great American Dream come true. But unfortunately, many top dogs tend to overlook what it takes to be a real Success in everyday life on the inside. Business executives, says Dr. Bergas are particularly vulnerable to the downside aspects of the Success Syndrome.

I know successful business leaders who’ve had more than two ex-wives, more than two kids, more than two homes and more than two headaches all at the same time. They didn’t plan it that way. But, Success for them is a quiet vacation alone on deserted island. What’s up with that?

At work, these super achievers can mow down any obstacle in their way to Succeed, manage high-performing teams and excel at balancing the most challenging issues. Their passion and drive are all together pure rocket fuel. But in their personal lives, on the home front, being a Success is a complete disaster.

Dr. Bergas argues that Success at work can lead to deeply damaging consequences in your personal life, or worse ruin your health. And nobody talks about it. Mostly because in our society being a Success on the outside is all that really matters. Afterall, cash is still king, right?

Maybe there’s a better way.

I think it’s time we once more rewrite the definition of Success, if not for ourselves, then for our kids. Away from the deep chasm’s edge of material gains and re-define the meaning back to where it began. In my view the correct definition of Success should read:

Success: says Rick Andrade is: 

A sustainable feeling of well-being (happiness) balanced in personal achievement and satisfaction at work, and at home.

Simple right? Sure. But apparently not as easy as it sounds. Experts like Bergas say if you can’t balance the work/life equation, the same equation most contemporary employers pledge to offer new-hires every day, you need to take a step back and seriously check in on your approach, identify root causes and right the imbalance. Begin with a look in the mirror. Because it’s about you, not the job.

Those that can admire their own reflection in the absence of wealth or rewards or work are the truly happy successful people in life in my view.

So. How can we join them?

Richard Branson says “Success is happiness.” Mark Cuban says “it’s waking up every morning with a smile on your face.” Warren Buffet says it’s all about “how many people in your life you want to love you, actually do love you.” I love that one.

At my alma mater UCLA, famous basketball coach John Wooden whom many consider the most successful college basketball coach of all time gave the idea considerably more thought.

Success: says John Wooden is:

“Peace of mind attained only through self-satisfaction in knowing you made the effort to do the best of which you’re capable. Creating and preserving your reputation and character.”

Wow. So, why isn’t that in the dictionary’s definition of Success?

In other words, we’re being misguided. What if the real secret to Success is not wealth, achievement, or fame. If you’re satisfied in life, friends, family, job then you should consider yourself at the top of your game. The real definition of Success for you is therefore a personal choice to align your goals and measures to seek and find happiness, not money.

Earl Nightingale best-selling author, radio personality, motivational speaker from the 1950s till his death in 1989 spent his life searching for the ‘Secret of Success.’ He says Success is “the progressive realization of a worthy ideal.” Not the fastest car, biggest house, best school, country club membership, or bank account.

Real Success is a personal journey of self-realization. And the real secret to Success is finding happiness along the way. Like Buffet said, it’s how many people you want to love you, actually “do.” And the easiest way to chart your course unsurprisingly comes from the great Stephen Covey, author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, who says “start with the end in mind.”

Write your own epitaph. Creepy, yes, but when it’s on paper and posted, you’ll have your map.

In the meantime, becoming a top 5% pro can include all the wealth and fame you can get your greedy hands on. Nothing wrong with that. But not at the expense of what will make you feel happy. Branson’s right, Success is happiness. And true Success in America is perfecting the balance of life that gets you there.

So, if you’re ready for a change join me and start spending your next 10,000 hours at it. I think you’ll find like I did that if you “do it“ because you want to, not because you have to then the real secret to Success is the self-realization you know the road you’re on makes you feel happy. And those who love you are truly happy that you’re there to share it with them, every day.

Sound about right? 

A few books I recommend that can help blend Success with happiness on your journey to achieve them both:

  1. “Think and Grow Rich” by Napoleon Hill. This timeless classic outlines the principles of Success, including the power of positive thinking, goal setting, and persistence.
  2. “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People” by Stephen R. Covey Covey presents a holistic approach to Success through seven habits that focus on personal development, effective communication, and achieving long-term goals.
  3. “Mindset: The New Psychology of Success” by Carol S. Dweck Dweck explores the concept of fixed vs. growth mindsets and how your mindset can significantly impact your Success in various areas of life.
  4. “Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance” by Angela Duckworth Duckworth discusses the importance of grit – a combination of passion and perseverance – in achieving long-term Success.
  5. “Outliers: The Story of Success” by Malcolm Gladwell Gladwell delves into the factors that contribute to high levels of Success, challenging traditional notions of talent and luck.
  6. “Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones” by James Clear focuses on the role of small habits in achieving Success and provides practical strategies for making positive changes.
  7. “Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us” by Daniel H. Pink Pink examines the science of motivation, shedding light on how autonomy, mastery, and purpose drive Success.
  8. “The Power of Now: A Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment” by Eckhart Tolle While not solely focused on conventional Success, this book emphasizes the importance of living in the present moment and cultivating inner peace.
  9. Lead the Field” (audiobook) by Earl Nightingale who argues Success is a matter of sticking to a set of commonsense principles anyone can master. The magic word is ‘Attitude.’


Written by Rick Andrade.