Does Your Definition of Success Work for You?

One of the world's richest men, Saudi Arabian Prince Alwaleed, is not happy with his place on Forbes magazine's list of the world's richest people. Ranked at number 29, he is suing the magazine for libel, claiming his fortune is $9.5 billion more than the $20 billion reported.

This may be an extreme example, yet we live in a society that encourages us to use money as a way to keep score. TV shows and movies celebrate the lives of the rich and powerful. Professional firms compete based on profits per partner. Forbes publishes its annual list of the richest Americans.

You may be thinking, "I would never use money to keep score. How silly." But before you start patting yourself on the back for your good sense, ask yourself the following questions:

1. Do I compare my earnings with those of my peers at work, or my friends and family?
2. Do I have a net worth goal I am trying to achieve? If so, do I keep resetting the goal every
time I reach it?
3. When I refer to someone as a successful person, am I judging them by their financial
4. Is my personal definition of success based on my income or net worth?

Using money to keep score implies that we are in a race or game. It implies that "He who dies with the most toys (or the most money) wins." My question is, "Wins what?"

There is no award for dying with the most money, and if there were, Bill Gates has an insurmountable lead. More importantly, who wants to be remembered for the money they left behind? Most of us want to be remembered for the love we shared with family and friends and how we helped the people whose lives we touched.

But there's an even larger problem with using your money to keep score. It is hard to spend money on experiences that enrich your life if you are worried about the size of your net worth. After all, every dollar you spend is one less dollar you have.

I am not recommending spending every dollar that passes through your hands. We all need to save money for our retirement, for an unexpected emergency and for our children's education. The sad truth is many Americans need to spend less and save more.

But some of us have more than we need, maybe far more than we need. We are so used to defining our success in financial terms that we forget what really matters in life. We work 60 hours a week to maximize our income, cheating ourselves and our family of time together. We give far less to charity than we can afford, denying ourselves the pleasure of helping others.

Keeping score is not inherently a bad thing. It helps us stay focused. It helps us achieve our goals. It is often fun.

The key is to change how we keep score. Rather than focusing on how much money you earn, focus on how much quality time you spend with family and friends. Rather than focusing on the size of your portfolio, focus on the impact you make for the people and causes you care about.

How is your definition of success working for you?

David Geller is the author of Wealth & Happiness: Using Your Wealth to Create a Better Life. He also serves as a motivational speaker and the CEO of Atlanta-based GV Financial Advisors. His book is available through or