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14 rich and powerful people share their surprising definitions of success

Jin S. Lee
  • Successful people don't necessarily define success as being rich or powerful.
  • Instead, they often talk about relationships, well-being, and societal impact.
  • Below are 14 legendary figures' definitions of success, from John Paul DeJoria (hard work) to Maya Angelou (liking yourself).
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

When we talk about a "successful" person, we're typically talking about someone with billions in their bank account, someone who's authored multiple bestsellers, or maybe someone who's in charge of an entire nation.

But if you ask people who fit the conventional definition of a successful individual, many will tell you that those achievements aren't what make them feel accomplished.

Read more: 11 wildly successful people who never went to college

Below, Business Insider has rounded up what some of the world's most powerful and impressive people — from President Barack Obama to the late author Maya Angelou — have to say about success.

JP Kim/Stringer/Getty Images

Though Sir Richard Branson, founder of the Virgin Group, is worth $4.1 billion, the Virgin founder equates success with personal fulfillment.

"Too many people measure how successful they are by how much money they make or the people that they associate with," he wrote on LinkedIn. "In my opinion, true success should be measured by how happy you are."

Nicholas Hunt/Getty Images

Huffington says that while we tend to think of success along two metrics — money and power — we need to add a third.

"To live the lives we truly want and deserve, and not just the lives we settle for, we need a Third Metric," she told Forbes' Dan Schawbel, "a third measure of success that goes beyond the two metrics of money and power, and consists of four pillars: well-being, wisdom, wonder, and giving."

Together, those factors help you to take care of your psychological life and truly be successful, as the title of her 2014 book, "Thrive," suggests.

Michael Buckner/Getty

"Shark Tank" regular Cuban offers a surprisingly simple take on success.

In an interview with Steiner Sports, he said:

"To me, the definition of success is waking up in the morning with a smile on your face, knowing it's going to be a great day. I was happy and felt like I was successful when I was poor, living six guys in a three-bedroom apartment, sleeping on the floor."

Wikimedia Commons

With 620 victories and 10 national titles, Wooden is the winningest coach in college basketball history.

But his definition of success was more about competing with yourself than the other guy:

"Peace of mind attained only through self-satisfaction in knowing you made the effort to do the best of which you're capable," he said in a 2001 TED Talk.

Warren Buffett participates in a discussion during the White House Summit on the United State Of Women June 14, 2016 in Washington, DC.
Alex Wong/Getty Images

With a net worth of $86 billion, Buffett is just about the wealthiest person in the world, second only to Bill Gates. And yet his definition of success has nothing to do with money or fame.

As James Altucher writes, the chairman of Berkshire Hathaway once told shareholders at an annual meeting: "I measure success by how many people love me."

AP

The late, great poet laureate, who passed away at 86 in 2014, left behind stacks of books and oodles of aphorisms.

Her take on success is among the best: "Success is liking yourself, liking what you do, and liking how you do it."

Bill Gates, co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, speaks at the 2015 Financial Inclusion Forum.
Alex Wong/Getty Images

Gates is the wealthiest person in the world, with a net worth of $100 billion, but to him, success is about relationships and leaving behind a legacy.

In a Reddit AMA, Gates took a tip from Warren Buffett when asked about his definition of success:

"Warren Buffett has always said the measure [of success] is whether the people close to you are happy and love you."

He added: "It is also nice to feel like you made a difference — inventing something or raising kids or helping people in need."

Amy Sussman /AP Images for Seventh Generation

The physician and author says it's a matter of continual growth.

"Success in life could be defined as the continued expansion of happiness and the progressive realization of worthy goals," Chopra writes in " The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success."

President Barack Obama holds his final news conference at the White House in Washington, U.S., January 18, 2017.
REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

Obama once held the highest office in the land — but he doesn't equate power with success.

At the 2012 Democratic National Convention, First Lady Michelle Obama told the audience that her husband "started his career by turning down high-paying jobs and instead working in struggling neighborhoods where a steel plant had shut down."

She went on: "For Barack, success isn't about how much money you make. It's about the difference you make in people's lives."

Kevin Winter/Getty

DeJoria co-founded Paul Mitchell hair products and Patron tequila. In an interview with Business Insider, he reflected on the lessons he learned while working at a dry cleaner's as a young man.

Apparently, the head of the store was impressed by how spic and span DeJoria kept the floors, even though no one was watching him clean.

That's why he now believes:

"Success isn't how much money you have. Success is not what your position is. Success is how well you do what you do when nobody else is looking."

Kevin Winter/Getty Images for NAACP Image Awards

Everyone told billionaire reality show personality Oprah Winfrey not to go to Chicago to pursue her TV show.

Winfrey did anyway, and became one of the most famous faces in television while doing so. Why? Because she listened to her "inner voice."

Winfrey urged graduates of Skidmore College in 2017 to find their inner voice, which would guide them to success.

"It's a big, bad world out there," she said. "There is nothing more powerful than you using your personality to serve the calling of yourself."

Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella said people cannot succeed without showing empathy. He realized the importance of empathy at 29, after he and his wife, Anupama, gave birth to their first son with cerebral palsy, which causes movement disorders.

While Nadella struggled with his son's condition at first, he realized he needed to step up and see the world through another point of view. Empathy also allows businesses to become successful, as it allows them to understand the unmet, unarticulated needs of customers.

This is an update of an article originally posted by Drake Baer.

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Summary | 9 Annotations
surprising definitions of success
2018/03/05 09:40
they often talk about relationships, well-being, and societal impact.
2018/03/05 09:40
a third measure of success that goes beyond the two metrics of money and power, and consists of four pillars: well-being, wisdom, wonder, and giving."
2018/03/05 09:41
you don't need money to be successful.
2018/03/05 09:41
"Peace of mind attained only through self-satisfaction in knowing you made the effort to do the best of which you're capable," he said in a 2001
2018/03/05 09:42
Legendary investor Warren Buffett values relationships above all else
2018/03/05 09:42
definition of success has nothing to do with money or fame.
2018/03/05 09:42
"Success is liking yourself, liking what you do, and liking how you do it."
2018/03/05 09:43
success is a matter of constant growth.
2018/03/05 09:43