How Do You Define Success?

21 October 2023

And now, Words and Their Stories, from VOA Learning English.

We all want to be a success in life. But success can look different from person to person. Perhaps the key to success is really knowing yourself. What do you want? What are your skills and strong suits? What are you really good at and what are you not?

Climbing the ladder of success also requires different strategies in different industries. If want to be a success in a traditional corporate environment, you may have to wear business clothing like a suit. As they say, you may have to dress for success.

FILE - Australian actress Margot Robbie arrives for the European premiere of Barbie in central London on July 12, 2023. The movie has been a huge success. (Photo by JUSTIN TALLIS / AFP)
FILE - Australian actress Margot Robbie arrives for the European premiere of "Barbie" in central London on July 12, 2023. The movie has been a huge success. (Photo by JUSTIN TALLIS / AFP)

If want a creative job, you may need to wear the latest fashions. Again, English has a common expression about clothes and future job goals: "Dress for the job you want, not the one you have."

However, success takes more than just the right clothes. It also takes hard work. Oftentimes others do not see all the hard work that goes into a project. They think success comes suddenly, for example overnight. Let's say an unknown writer makes it big with her first book. People may call her an overnight success. But they do not know about the many years she spent studying and writing.

Another ingredient in the recipe for success is a plan. To reach your goal, you need to get organized and break the goal down into doable steps. You know what they say – if you fail to plan, you plan to fail.

Many English phrases make the road to success sound like a real physical path -- something we could find on a map.

Real roads are paved with materials such as asphalt. But when we talk about success, the roads to it are paved with different materials. Sometimes we say the roads are paved with gold. This suggests a place where success, especially financial wealth, is easy to come by.

For some people the road to success is paved with hard work or luck. Others may find their road to success is paved with failures. Learning from their failures taught them how to succeed.

Often if you follow the right road, you can achieve your goal. Then, life is filled with the sweet smell of success. You have the world at your feet. You are riding high. You've got it made and are killing it. You are golden. As you can see, we have many expressions describing success.

But make sure that you do not lose sight of what really makes you happy and successful. Some people become a victim of their own success. This means you start having problems because of your success. And that explains our final popular English saying, a gentle warning: Be careful what you wish for: you just might get it.

And that's all the time we have for this Words and Their Stories.

How would you define success for your English studies? And do you have a plan to reach it? Go to our website and comment on the story. Or you can send us an email to this address:

In the subject line, write Words and Their Stories and "success."

Until next time ... I'm Anna Matteo.

Anna Matteo wrote this lesson for VOA Learning English.


Words in This Story

strong suit – n. something in which one excels

strategy – n. a careful plan or method

fashion – n. a common style especially of dress during a particular time or among a certain group

ingredient – n. something that enters into a compound or is a component part of any combination or mixture

recipe – n. a set of instructions for making something (as a food dish) from various things

paved – n. to lay or cover with material (such as asphalt or concrete) that forms a firm level surface for travel

asphalt – n. any of various compositions of asphalt having different uses (as for pavement or for waterproof cement or paint)