Just about everybody that you talk to would say that they want to be successful. But a surprising number of those people can't really define what success is. They may have a vague notion that success equates with money, power, or fame but they don't really define what levels of money, power or fame that they seek. The notion of success is vague and the path towards it is ill defined.
Clearly, success is a relative thing. It depends on a person's value system, beliefs, and tolerance level. Some things that make one person completely happy and satisfied may be completely untenable for someone else. For this reason, the first most fundamental step in achieving success is to define what success really is. This is not a process that should be taken lightly, because it will have a profound and long-lasting impact on a person's life and career.
Because of the long-term implications that success and the pursuit of it have over a person's life, the optimum time to define success is early in one's life and career. In other words, by knowing at a young age what you want to achieve and then clearly defining how you intend to achieve it, the process of becoming successful becomes much more systematic. To not define success early in one's life and career is tantamount to not defining a destination after already setting out on a journey.
Of course it is never too late to define success. Even if you are approaching middle age or are already into it, it is still critically important for you to define what success means to you. In fact, defining success later in life benefits from the acquired wisdom and experience that the years have already yielded. Regardless of when the definition of success happens in a person's life, it is a critical and valuable exercise.
The value lies in the overall process. By forcing yourself to sit down and clearly articulate what is important to you, and then understanding why, actually achieving it becomes much easier. When you have clearly defined goals in place as well as the compelling reasons why you want to achieve these goals, the likelihood of becoming successful is much greater than if your motivations are fuzzy and ill defined.
Clearly defining success is even more important if you are already unhappy with your life. For example, if you are looking for long-term financial security but are not certain how to achieve it, define what that security would mean to you. Once it's defined you can implement a financial plan to achieve it.