What is success?

I define success differently than many people. I defined it as having the life you want. (The title of this book may have tipped you off.) Seen this way, success implies and subsumes to necessary preconditions: first, knowing what you want; and second, getting it, or most of it, most of the time.

Most people, especially early on in their lives and careers, tend to think of success in financial and material terms. There’s an assumption, well promoted and rewarded in our society, that if you make a good living you are successful. 

The people who introduce us to and influence us in society (our parents, teachers, supervisors), reinforce this belief. Basically, the theory goes, if you work hard and you do well, you’ll attain well, position and accolades. That may be true. The problem is that it may also be beside the point. If you’re truly driven Buy a desire for those things, having them may indeed make you happy. However, if you don’t really care about them Dash and many people, at their core, really do not Dash seeking them is a waste of time and obtaining them will, ultimately, be unfulfilling. And, for what’s it’s worth, my opinion is that money is generally a fairly poor proxy for success.

To be clear: I’m not making a value judgment that the equation “success equals money” is morally wrong. As it happens, some of the things I wanted in my life include wealth and the associated material goods it can bring. I’ve also spent my career bringing consumers light entertainment. I haven’t been trying to cure cancer — I know that – and I’m okay with that. So I don’t think there’s anything wrong with superficial goals: indeed, I have many. But this is an about me. It’s about you, and what you want. Being honest with yourself, as early as you can, that wouldn’t really is absolutely crucial if you are to be successful. When we were young, many of us engaged in an internal game of, “If just get (fill in the blank) I’ll be happy.” In my view, unless you fill in that blank with something that reflects your genuine goals — becoming the CEO Of a company, climbing Mount Everest, making a billion dollars, raising a happy family — the sentence will likely turn out to be false. And if you work long and hard to achieve false ambitions, The results will be acutely disappointing. Even worse, at that point it may be too late to do anything about it, because either you’ll be too old to change direction or you’ll be locked into a life and lifestyle the demands that you continue doing what you’re doing. Remember the aphorism: “Be careful what you wish for; you may receive it.” Focus on the thing that’s wrong for you and that focus may indeed just bring it to you. 

Excerpted from Success: A Concise Guide to Having The Life You Want. By Strauss Zelnick. 2011


  • Educated at Wesleyan University, Harvard Law School and Harvard Business School, Strauss Zelnick began his career at Columbia Pictures. A former president of Twentieth Century Fox and chief executive of BMG Entertainment, he today heads media investment group ZelnickMedia.