Is ‘First Place’ The Only Measure Of Success?

How do you define ‘success’?

Hurriya Burney
Sep 17 · 3 min read

When interviewing people for jobs, we describe the chosen one as the ‘successful candidate’.

In this case, ‘success’ is defined as beating out others to get what you want, i.e. the job you applied for. If you do not get the job, you’re described as ‘unsuccessful’, having failed in your quest.

But what if not getting the job is a blessing in disguise?

Maybe it will change your life in ways you’re not ready for. Maybe it involves taking on a resentful team, set in its ways. Maybe it will bring you under the thumb of a peevish, demanding boss. Maybe it will scrape off your time for family, hobbies, passion, travel, and deep breaths. Maybe it involves spoon-feeding sugary cereal to executives to get them to see things your way.

Maybe being the ‘unsuccessful candidate’ is success in disguise.

In the moment, you feel like a failure. In hindsight, you may feel thankful.


A friend is a ballroom dancer.

She raves about how ballroom dancing has filled her life with joy. At competitions, she decks out in glittery regalia, heavy makeup, and a grin as wide as a crevasse in an earthquake. She travels all of North America to participate in ballroom dancing competitions.

She rarely attains ‘first place’ — but that isn’t how she defines ‘success’.

To her, progress is ‘success’. She measures whether she improved from the previous time she competed.

Isn’t this a much healthier way to look at success? As a measure of competing only against yourself, not beating others. Acknowledging that everyone’s journey is different because we are all different.

Photo by Raphael Schaller on Unsplash

A society rife with competition and one-upmanship decrees that ‘first place’ is the only measure of success.

We define ‘success’ by how we perform relative to others. By whether we win or lose. And winning or losing is a zero sum game. If someone else wins, I am the loser. But is that the right way to look at life?

Why define our success in the context of others’?

Throughout middle school and high school, I competed with another girl to achieve top marks in school. Every year, we were ranked and most years, I came in second, with the other girl beating me out for first place. It rankled. Despite clearing straight A’s every semester, I didn’t feel successful.

Fast forward twenty years, I have a thriving career as a bank executive, captaining a growing team of 14. My erstwhile competitor stopped working after having her second baby.

In my eyes, she wasted her potential. In her eyes, she has two beautiful kids and a balanced family life. Compared to my childless, barren life of corporate functions and a house echoing with the silence of a baby’s laughter. And yet both of us are undoubtedly happy. And maybe that means we’re both ‘successful’.


Happiness is a better measure of success than ‘first place’.

Even attaining a CEO position or a gold medal at the Olympics isn’t success if it means crying into your pillow every night. You may have won but at what cost? We all bask in a winning outcome — but was it worth it?

And what happens after? You may have attained a CEO position. But what will you need to do to keep it? Are hundred hours a week, week after week, worth it?

Before defining what success means to you, ask yourself what will light your heart on fire.

Ask yourself which wall you want to lean into. Seek happiness and fulfillment instead of chasing society’s measures of ‘success’. Because that is where true ‘winning’ lies.

Live Your Life On Purpose

Get Purpose. Get Perspective. Get Passion.

Hurriya Burney

Written by

Sales leader, writer, and lifelong learner. I write about Motivation, Achieving Goals, & Leadership. Thrive Global contributor.

Live Your Life On Purpose

Get Purpose. Get Perspective. Get Passion.

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