The True Meaning of Success as Defined by John Wooden


If you ask different people what their definitions of “success” are, you’ll probably get very different answers. You might hear an answer that revolves around making a lot of money or an answer that leans more towards the acquisition of power. You might also hear definitions such as raising children correctly or giving back to the community. These ideas are common ways that people like to define success.

However, according to one of the most successful people out there, these definitions are incorrect.

When somebody answers “Making a lot of money” to the question of what success means, it’s a very subjective answer that speaks more about the person individually than the true meaning of success. If we think about “success” this way, there is a deeper definition of success that is uniform and consistent, yet allows for everyone to reach their own individual idea of what success is. At the end of the day, making a lot of money, being in a position of power, giving back to the community, or being a great parent are all simply byproducts of success.

John Wooden (AKA the Wizard of Westwood) was arguably the greatest basketball coach and leader of all time. I have a keen interest in his career, being that he played college hoops at my alma mater Purdue University back in the 1930’s. Eventually, he coached the UCLA men’s college basketball team to an astonishing 11 national championship wins (with 7 being consecutive – a record that nobody has even come close to touching) and an 88 consecutive win streak (another record that nobody has broken). In his 40+ years of coaching the game (both high school and college ball), he only had one losing season. That is simply astonishing. Even if you dislike sports, you have to at least recognize the caliber of leader that John Wooden was. Not only was he a great coach, but he single-handedly developed generations of players to become future coaches, NBA players, doctors, lawyers, teachers, business professionals, and overall good citizens.

John Wooden has many rules and tips for success…too much to go over in this article. He even created a “Pyramid of Sucess” that shows all the different components that make up a successful team, both in basketball and in the professional world of business. This pyramid has been taught at the corporate level for decades. Although the pyramid still remains one of the best teaching tools for success, his overall definition of success is what stands out for me.

John Wooden never defined success as winning a basketball game. He mentioned numerous times in his books and his talks that many times, he felt as if the team was unsuccessful despite a victory, and successful despite a loss. For his true definition of success, here is Coach Wooden speaking at his TED talk back in 2001. This is a longer video, but it’s entirely worth the watch:

Success is peace of mind, which is a direct result of self-satisfaction in knowing you made the effort to do your best to become the best that you are capable of becoming.”

Working in sales, we oftentimes think success means closing a deal or being number 1 in sales volume for a given period of time. According to Coach Wooden, those are simply results of success. True success comes from giving your 100% effort to be the very best salesperson, marketer, or customer service rep that you can be. If you can sit back after a customer interaction and say “I did my absolute very best”, you are successful, regardless if you closed them or not.

It’s easy to get caught in the trap of thinking we are unsuccessful or successful based off of our numerical results. In both instances, thinking this way will only hurt yourself and will not allow you to reach your full potential. Always make your best effort and work to become the very best that you can be. If you do that, you will see those byproducts of success.

Author: Jason Karaman

Hello! I’m a marketing, sales, and customer service author, blogger and doer. I live in the South Carolina Lowcountry with my wife. I enjoy reading, writing, hiking, kayaking, and all things beach. For media inquiries, send an email to

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *