Success is overrated.

(or just poorly defined)

“The interesting thing about success is that our ideas about what it would mean to live successfully are not our own.” – Alain de Botton


If we were all to close our eyes and think of the word “success,” it’s likely that many of us would come back with a tragically low amount of innovation in what we see.

Suits, Big houses, Stages, Nice cars, Bill Gates, Picket fences, Beach homes, Brad Pitt, Magazine covers…etc

And unfortunately, this lack of creativity comes from the fact that most of our definitions of success are not personal to our lives. They’re simply inherited from others. These ideas may come from our parents…or Hollywood…or some slightly-overweight-middle-aged ad man who drives a red convertible and gets paid far too much to create TV commercials.

Here’s the catch.

If we don’t intentionally create new associations with “success,” we’re in danger of living someone else’s life.

The problem with inheriting our ideas of success…


According to Webster, success can be defined as “the attainment of popularity or profit.” This obviously plays nice with most of our projections. Yet, history seems to think that luxury and fame rarely amount to much of a life.

Fame makes you feel permanently like a girl walking past construction workers. | Brad Pitt

Don’t try to be a billionaire. It’s overrated. | Bill Gates

Fame is overrated and it frightens me when kids say ‘I want to be famous.’ | Keira Knightley

Even when a person has an abundance, his life does not result from the things he possesses. | Luke 12


It’s not that money or fame are bad. We all know the meaningful role finances and influence can play in life. It’s just that money and fame are often the only parts of our definition – leaving relationships, health and spirituality to be slotted in and undervalued.

We’ve heard too many deathbed confessions about how they would have cared less about their career or money and more about family or friends to believe that wealth & fame make a good brand of success.


We all have a deeply felt need to be successful. Call it whatever you want – being faithful, meeting expectations, winning – but feeling successful is a healthy part of being fully human. So why is this a problem?

When we inherit our ideals of success, we are driven by another person’s definition and miss the unique existence that only you or I can live.

Inheriting v Creating.

“There are so many ways to walk upon the earth.” -Brett Dennen

Recently, the guys in my mastermind group and I began the conversation about our impersonal ideas of success. We quickly realized that most of us didn’t like, nor did we want, our current inherited definitions.

So…over the course of 2 weeks, we asked each other three simple questions. These questions have proved to be a great starting point I would suggest to anyone interested in not living another person’s carbon copy life.


We all approached this differently. Some documented an ideal day from start to finish. Others, detailed what their relationships would feel like, the streams of income they wanted, and/or the products and projects they wanted to create. Here are some pieces of each…

“A simple & local life that is professionally-exciting, relationally-connected & spiritually-inspired…”

“A life with the freedom to choose what I do, when I do it, where I do it from and who I do it with…”

“My wife has life in her eyes and my kids, emotionally empowered…”

“No matter the income, my work has a sense of purpose and progress…”

“12pm-2pm everyday: Siesta with friends, business partners, or family…”

“The time and geographic location to foster relationships with people who challenge, encourage, and inspire me, and of whom I can reciprocate the same…”

“My ideal day involves helping or investing in to someone, intentionality, laughing, work, flexibility, and mobility…”


Being pushed by fear or expectations isn’t nearly as powerful as being pulled by purpose and vision. Answering WHY we wanted this new brand of success was arguably the most significant layer to what we did. Here’s an aggregate of our thoughts.

“I want to be financially successful to eat, drink, and be merry when it is time to do these things; in order that I may surround myself with beautiful things, see distant lands with my kids, feed my mind, spend time with people I love, and develop my intellect; in order that I may love others and do kind things, and be able to play a good part in helping the world to find truth…” (revised from Wallace Wattles)

“For the time and energy to invest into my family & friends…”

“To offer my wife & children the opportunity to fully experience and enjoy life: education, international exposure, skill training, adventures…”

“To take care of friends & family with finances, quality time, a safe place, life wisdom…”

“For independence from the “system” & freedom of choice…”


“Obsession with working too much…”

“Fear of criticism & Preference for hiddenness…”

“Need for security and financial control…”

“Finding my identity in what I do…”

Your turn. And no this isn’t just another tag question on the end of a post to try and get more engagement. Take some time to ask yourself these questions, and even if it’s pieces of your answers, I want to hear them. I want to be  inspired by them. Comment below or email me.

Photo Cred: Marc Wanamaker

  • Josh Collins

    Really great stuff here Tyler! Its become more clear to me over the years that the people who I most admire have much healthier ideals of what success looks like and those are almost every time in contrast to the status quo.

    I also agree and LOVE the idea behind my wife and family having life in their eyes! Beautiful!

  • tyler ward

    Life in their eyes is a big deal, right?! Love it.

  • Lena

    My idea of success for my life is getting to a point where I am free to pursue my desires (the God-given ones), be it traveling, learning a new skill, serving others, speaking what is on my heart without fear and expressing my love and gratitude to my loved ones without restraint. In a word, success is freedom.

  • tyler ward

    @disqus_1L3UNp0pcv:disqus: Thanks for sharing. Freedom is BIG…and possible!

  • Will Ray Curry

    Totally what I needed to hear this morning. It’s so easy to loose sight of authentic success when you’re standing on the false summit.

  • chance

    Dang, this is good, Tyler. Really, really good.

  • Jared

    I am fighting for a lens that experiences success as a daily rhythm; a way of approaching each day with the present in mind…to be in every moment fully. Far too much of my life has been spent dwelling on the past (perceived successes and failures) or fretting about the “what ifs” of a make-believe tomorrow. Success has a rhythmic appeal to me…which means it has a groove. And that invites me to learn the dance of life where my full humanness can a be engaged, matured, and expressed.

  • tyler ward

    I love this. And completely relate.

    I had an event happen this wk that really wanted to keep me stuck in yesterday. Your thoughts put great language the wrestle I’ve had to stay in the moment.

    Thx Jared!

  • tyler ward

    Thx for tuning in chance!

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  • Rachel

    I am on the same page as Jared, in approaching each day with the present in mind. It’s so very easy to dwell on the choices we made (or didn’t make) in the past AND look to the future with overwhelming feelings of the endless amount of choices we can make. I believe that it is essential to define in detail & with raw honesty what success means personally. I’ve come to this realization in my own life as someone who absolutely loves to connect with people and hear their stories. I find a great amount of joy and inspiration in their individual stories and how they have been successful, but I also quite often feel the burden of comparison. One person might be raising a family and creating a beautiful story within the walls of their home and community, while another person might be biking across America to support a cause or to add a chapter in their own life story, and another is a film maker or photographer or artist diving into projects that are outside of the box.

    In a message from Mosaic Church LA, Pastor Hank Fortner said (paraphrased) “God imprinted His image into us, so we carry the image of God with us. We also carry with us the most forceful and powerful thing that God entrusted us with, and that is the ability to choose. We have the choice to reflect the Image of God in our life through our choices.” (scripture reference from sermon Deut. 30:19)

    If we simply sit back and inherit the ideas of success based on the world and culture and what we see others doing via instagram or other forms of social media, I think we are missing the mark when it comes to creating and experiencing true success as a unique individual in God’s story. Our choices really do matter, from from physical choices and actions we take & personal responsibility, to the choices we make internally with our thoughts, attitude and heart. I want an adventurous and simple life, I want community that challenges, I want to do meaningful work, and I want to have a family someday. Is my life only going to be successful if I decide to have 4 kids and then tote them behind my bike across America while I film and document it to be screened at Sundance?? Well, that would certainly be a wild ride of a life, but I’m going to make the choice to be present with God daily, and to define and create success for me vs. inheriting the success’ of others and trying to somehow “have it all”.

  • Chris Purifoy

    I love Hank! He is the first pastor in a decade that I really trust and generally look forward to seeing each week. I find myself wishing there were meetings on off nights. I am really excited for next Wed! It’ll be like Moses coming down from the mountain..haha.

    I also love you outlook! I tend to focus all of my mental effort in the future, and I think I often forget to live ‘now’. Thanks!

    You inspire me. I wish I were half the Man you are.. It’s encouraging to see your journey/story evolve and mature! Your family is gorgeous. Your words are profound. Your optimism is contagious (I promise I’m not getting paid here..). haha Miss ya!

    Thanks for your authentic words and for the courage to bear them on this blog..


  • tyler ward

    @johnsolomon:disqus: Best comment ever. :) Thanks mate. Any dont get too comfortable out west.

  • Chris Purifoy

    @John Solomon?! Thats funny…my old pen name must be is attached to my Disqus account.

  • Rachel

    Mosaic is great! I have only been to an actual service once when I was visiting friends in LA, but Hank is one of a handful of pastors whose sermons I like to keep up on. The IMAGE series is one of my favorites.

    Also, thanks for the kind words!


  • Aaron Kennard

    Good article Ty. I like where you’re going with that.
    My favorite definition of success:
    “Success is the progressive realization of a worthy goal” Earl Nightingale.
    We can always succeed every moment of every day with that definition. Which is an empowering position to be in.

  • ellis

    1. Success to me is having a great relationship with the people that I love and who love me (i.e., my mom, sister, best friend, etc.) 2. I want this brand of success because I understand the value of a relationship, it gives me purpose in what I do daily. These people will always be there for me to cultivate happiness in my life and I will be there for them. 3. Money or that job move to a further location with better pay.

  • Rebecca Ann Jordan

    Hi, Tyler. I just discovered your blog today, and this article resonated with me. I recently quit my full-time job to write full time and pursue a career, a vision of success, I want to have. Lately I’ve felt a lot of stress, impressions that I haven’t been accomplishing enough, conceptions that I should be making more money (even though I’ve been making some, and have some saved up), anxiety about what I tell my peers I do for a living. This article helped me realize that that stress comes a lot from this inherited notion of success. My working created definition is that I want to be recognized for my work; I want to build a brand as an author; I want to accomplish at least one small goal each day; and I want to be able to stop and spend time with loved ones and friends when they ask me to, without worrying that I ought to be accomplishing something when I’m with them.

  • tyler ward

    I like it @aaronkennard:disqus. Thanks for sharing.

  • tyler ward

    Well done. Thanks for sharing…

  • tyler ward

    Love it @rebecca_ann_jordan:disqus. And all the best with developing a brand as an author.