What does “success” really mean?

Like all of my work (including the creation of Tarot.com with Jessica Abel and Jewel Mlnarik), my next book — tentatively titled “Great Decisions, Perfect Timing” — is about helping people to achieve personal success in life.

We all want success. But the word means different things to different people. In other words, we want success on our own terms. So … what does success mean for you? Have you consciously defined success for yourself yet? (No? Well, get on it! :-)

Success can take many forms. It is entirely personal. Your definition of success depends completely upon whatever you value most highly — not what anyone else wants (or even what most people want). The true story of my cousin Lennie illustrates the point brilliantly, for Lennie defined success for himself and has been living his unique dream for fifteen years now.

Lennie sold his barber shop business 17 years ago and purchased 12 acres in the Leelanau County, Michigan — a few miles from the village where he grew up (and where I spent wonder-filled summers running through the woods and catching turtles in the lake as a child). Leelanau County is a beautiful part of the world, a freshwater wonderland –a peninsula surrounded by Lake Michigan that contains three large lakes within itself.

Cousin Lennie lives in a house that he built himself with some help from friends near beautiful Lake Leelanau. He built his own passive-solar home into the south side of a hill, using wood that he harvested from trees that had been growing on that same hill, producing beautiful ash wood for floors and paneling. An avid fisherman, he dug out two large ponds for trout, which receive fresh flowing cold water from the large Artesian spring he discovered on the property.

Not only does he fish, but Lennie hunts. But not for sport. He eats what he catches. This means plenty of venison, stored for consumption year round. His life requires lots of work, but it has a beautiful simplicity and Lennie is remarkably self-sufficient. His utility bills are almost nil and he lives on less than $10,000/year, mostly from working one day per week in his friend’s barber shop.

On a recent visit, my friend Robert, Lennie and I caught some 30 perch in Lake Leelanau in two hours (Lennie knows where they live :-). After that Robert and I took Lennie golfing at the funky but beautiful Lake Leelanua Club. Then we foraged Lennie’s huge garden for organic corn, salad and veggies. That evening we all cooked dinner, consisting of food that was all freshly caught or picked the same day … what a feast!

Lennie still works hard. He has little monetary income for having traded off business activity for living close to the land in an organic, non-wasteful way. But he has no regrets. For him, all the tradeoffs are totally worth his independence and self-sufficiency, which is what he values most highly in life. It’s a simple life, a happy life and, yes, a true success .

According to his own priorities, his own hierarchy of values, Lennie is a success, even though he hardly thought of it that way until Robert and I — who both have been entrepreneurial workaholics — pointed out to him what a monumental success story his really is.

How clear are you about your hierarchy of values, what is most important to you? For this is what will determine how successful you are — not how much money you make or what kinds of things you own (on credit, no less). Examine the satisfactions of your life … you may be more successful than you thought!