Brian Ma's Blog (@zealoustiger)

Weekly insights from an Entreprenuer: To spend one year as a tiger is better than to live forever as sheep

How do you measure success? Part 2

For those that missed it, last week I explored the question of how we think about success and the frameworks we’ve used in terms of how we measure it.  If you didn’t get a chance to read and reflect on that previously, I’d suggest going back to read it here.  It’s going to make this week’s essay make a bit more sense.

How do you measure success in life?

I ended last week posing this question again because I think it’s actually pretty important for us to have a chance to reflect on the question.  Without a doubt, our answer to this question drives everything we do and every decision we make.  How can we really live a fulfilled meaningful life without understanding or at least reflecting on this question?

This week, I’m going to propose an answer with the caveat that this is my personal answer, for me, right now.  I haven’t pondered enough yet about the multitude of answers that one may come up with for this particular question and if your answer differs from mine, I’d encourage you to leave your answer in the comment section below.

Without further ado, I think:

Success is measured by the number of lives you’ve changed.

Let me explain my word choice here a little.  There’s two important things to note:

  • I chose the word “changed” and I want to define it a bit here.  A changed life is one that you’ve touched so deeply that it’s actually changed a person’s values/beliefs – not just behavior.  This is quite subtle.  For example, Facebook and Google have significantly changed the way I find things or communicate with friends.  They’ve certainly changed my life in that it’s made me way more efficient, but those services by themselves have not “changed” my life according to this definition.
  • I purposely included the word “number of” lives.  Some people may disagree arguing that quantity should not have anything to do with it.  Although I do agree that quality (changed lives) is much more important then quantity (number of), it’s important to realize that truly great people are the ones that have believed and stood for something so strongly that their message has reached a critical mass of people.

This answer is in stark contrast to the other answers I provided in Part 1:

  • American Dream: pursuit of money and things
  • Being happy: pursuit of self happiness
  • Impact: pursuit of power

To make this idea more concrete, I’d offer the following examples as people I’d consider to have changed lives:

  • Moms or dads that positively influence their kids and infuse them with the proper values to be successful in life
  • CEOs and business leaders that sacrifice their own position or power to really serve their employees instead of vice versa
  • Average guys that when robbed of wallet at knifepoint, offered coat also (full story here)
  • Local men and women that offer their time mentoring disadvantaged kids or serving the homeless


As I write these examples, one thought keeps echoing in my head – Successful people are ones that care deeply about someone other then themselves.  What’s funny is that we’ve all grown up with the appropriate vocabulary already to describe this measurement of success.  And it’s contained one word.  Love.

Could it be as simple as that?  I think so.

I’ve never seen Rent and have no clue what it’s about, but I felt like this song was appropriate:



One response to “How do you measure success? Part 2

  1. katemats April 5, 2012 at 8:57 pm

    Thanks for the thoughtful post (and Rent really is an awesome musical worth seeing if you get the chance – and it has a great soundtrack).
    I like your definition, and I definitely see some truth in it. Although, to me, there is also something about success that comes from satisfaction and happiness that is completely independent of anyone else in the world. For example, a beautiful flower can bring a smile to my face, or the sound of rain on the roof during a winter storm, or even cotton candy at a sporting event or carnival – it is the simple pleasures that make life worth living. And having the time and being able to be present to enough all of it.

    So in the end, how do you measure success and happiness? For me it is a combination or freedom and choice. To impact people, and to do all of the other the things I want to do :)

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