What’s the definition of success? Is this person successful: Self-made multi-million dollar net worth by age thirty, CEO of a company for which you led the IPO by age thirty-five, in good health, solid marriage, active social life, vacation home, expensive European cars in the garage, the time and money to play and vacation in nice settings?

Maybe there isn’t one definition for success. Perhaps we all have to determine for ourselves what it is. If so, what’s your definition?

I used to be the guy in the first paragraph. I thought I was successful. The problem I ran into was I always wanted more of all of it. A bigger condo in the mountains, more money in the bank, a bigger company, a nicer car, and vacation resort destinations that were just a notch more exclusive.

As I look at the things I used to associate with success (some of which I have today and some I don’t), I understand that they’re fun, not inherently bad, and, with hindsight, not that important. What’s important to me now, and what I realize was important to me then, is how I define and achieve fulfillment.

Which Comes First, Success or Fulfillment?

I am writing a book that contrasts the difference between success and fulfillment (due out in the fall of this year). Success usually leaves us wanting more—to the point that we get addicted to the stuff of success. Fulfillment is actually what we want in the first place. We just think success will lead to fulfillment; instead it leads us away from it.

My book is entitled The Business of Wanting More and you’ll be hearing a lot more about it this spring. My thesis is that fulfillment comes only when you meet four core needs:

  1. Self-worth (the foundation need)
  2. Connection (the cornerstone need)
  3. Purpose (your source of meaning and passion)
  4. Service (this need arises naturally and unexpectedly when the other needs are met)

The writing process made me ask myself what kind of leader I was when I was chasing success. I was considered an effective leader by a lot of standards and people. I built and retained strong teams, created corporate cultures people wanted to work in, raised nearly a billion dollars of capital, and so on. Yet I wonder how effective I could have been had I been more fulfilled.

As I looked back on my thirties, I realized that because I was so unfulfilled, my ambition, insecurity, arrogance and self-centeredness limited how far I could take my leadership. The companies I ran blossomed for years but I wonder where things would have gone had I been fulfilled going into these endeavors instead of hoping that building the companies would make me fulfilled. I know I would have been an even more grounded, attractive and inspiring leader had I been more fulfilled.

The Power of Intention

The paradox of success is that by focusing on fulfillment (and not success) you become successful. As a leader or partner, you will reach your success goals because people who have high levels of self-worth, connection, purpose and service are happier, attractive and inspiring.

Don’t focus on making a certain amount of money. (You know it doesn’t make you happy, right?) Instead, focus on experiencing affirmation, acceptance, freedom, and self-worth. People want to follow leaders who get their worth from the inside and who do things for reasons bigger than their own ego or personal bank account.

Focus is important because there is tremendous power in your intention. Hence, be careful about what you are striving for because you just might get it and wake up one day wishing you had focused on something different.

Take the Fulfillment Test

If you think you have confused success with fulfillment or want to check on how fulfilled you are, ask yourself these four questions:

  1. Do I feel valuable and complete regardless of my accomplishments, failures and roles?
  2. How do I rate the three most important relationships in my life (excluding those with children under 16)?
  3. Am I passionate about what I do?
  4. How do I serve others (especially those I am not related to)?

If you don’t like one or more of your answers to these questions it’s time to set an intention to wean yourself off success (i.e., to stop getting more of what you don’t really need in the first place) and go for more of what really feeds you. If you don’t like your answers to one or more of these questions then chances are others in your life feel your pain (and their pain as a result) and that you’re not as strong a leader as you could be.

The good news is that eighty percent of fulfillment is knowing what it is—it’s meeting your four core needs. The other twenty percent comes when you break your soft addictions. Addictions like over-committing, over-working, consuming, worrying, controlling, judging, and the list goes on, all pull you further away from fulfillment.

To break some of your own soft addictions start by:

  1. Be good to yourself—maybe a blessing mantra as you look in the mirror.
  2. Take the risk to be more vulnerable in your relationships—share an emotion.
  3. Make a decision at work based entirely on either a mission statement or a core value like love, compassion, respect, trust, empathy (vs. “it’s just business”).
  4. Serve one person each week (make a call to person in crisis, help a nameless person in need, draw a candlelit bath for your spouse).

Once you know the difference between success and fulfillment, you will always pick fulfillment.